Environmentally Responsible Air Travel

Our Commitment to the Environment

The NACC’s member airlines are committed to environmentally responsible air travel and have been global leaders in their efforts to improve fuel efficiency, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, noise levels and waste and identify best practices for aircraft de-icing activities. 

Improving Fuel Efficiency and Reducing Emissions

Passenger air travel accounts for approximately 2% of all fossil fuel-related emissions worldwide. While this is a small part of the overall GHG-emission picture, we recognize the need to improve fuel efficiency and reduce emissions from aviation as well as to support innovation for future carbon reduction.

In June 2005, Canada became the first country to achieve a joint government-aviation industry agreement to address greenhouse gas emissions.  NACC members supported this voluntary Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between industry and Transport Canada. NACC members strongly supported the objective of the MOU to reduce emissions of greenhouse gas per unit of output from aviation in Canada. The fuel efficiency improvement specified in the MOU was the reduction of litres of fuel per revenue tonne-kilometre by an average of 1.1 percent per annum with a cumulative improvement of 24 percent in 2012 compared to the 1990 base case scenario. At the time of the signing of the MOU, the 1.1% reduction target was consistent with the approach being taken by the International Air Transport Association (IATA).  IATA had committed to achieving a fuel efficiency goal of 41.50 litres of fuel per 100 revenue tonne-kilometres by 2012.

Building on the success of the MOU, the aviation sector was proud to partner with the government to develop Canada’s Action Plan to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Aviation in 2012. The Action Plan is an excellent example of industry and government working together to achieve meaningful results.  The Action Plan recognizes the value of the investments made by NACC members in fleet renewal and cleaner, cutting-edge technology, and underlines the importance of more efficient air operations, as well as improved capabilities in air traffic management as critical measures in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 

Since 2008, the NACC has engaged an independent consultant to collect and aggregate member activity in order to create an annual report as required under the MOU and the Action Plan.

Under the MOU, NACC members achieved a cumulative efficiency improvement of 6.9% for the period 2005 through 2011 against an improvement target of 6.6%. In 2011, they achieved a cumulative improvement of 31.3% or an average annual improvement of 1.5% from the 1990 baseline and exceeded the MOU 2012 efficiency target by 9.7%.

Under the Action Plan in 2014, NACC members achieved a cumulative improvement of 12.84% or a 1.4% average annual improvement from the 2005 baseline.

With respect to aviation achieving its goal of carbon-neutral growth post 2020, NACC members look forward to working with the federal government on advancing alternative fuels and to reach an agreement at the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) for a global, sector-wide approach for market-based measures.

Fuel Efficiency

The NACC’s members have employed a number of methods to make fuel efficiency improvements. They continue to invest in their respective fleet renewal programs, which will continue to introduce new more efficient aircraft into their fleets.

The carriers also continue to institute policies and procedures that impact their operations by either improving efficiency or reducing fuel burn. These usually fall into the following categories:

  • Aircraft modifications and maintenance
  • Aircraft operation
  • Cargo and Baggage Operations
  • In flight/catering
  • Ground equipment operations.

Sustainable Fuels

Aviation jet fuel derived from fossil fuels is a type of kerosene (a distilled petroleum product invented by a Canadian). While the fuel burns quite efficiently compared to other fossil-based transportation fuels, it is still responsible for GHG emissions (approximately 2% of global emissions). Great advances are being made in the move toward a carbon-neutral aviation fuel, with ongoing tests of sustainable aviation  fuel made from  various sources such as waste and purpose-grown plants which do not compete with food.

The Air Transport Action Group (ATAG) has a primer on sustainable aviation fuels on the Enviro.Aero site.

The IATA 2014 Report on Alternative Fuels provides more specific information on the advances that have been made.

Air Traffic Control Modernisation

The efficiency of air traffic control at takeoff, landing and flight path planning can have a big impact on the amount of fuel used by aircraft. Recognizing this, the agency responsible for Canadian air traffic control, NAV CANADA, has been working with multiple stakeholders through the Collaborative Initiatives for Emissions Reductions (CIFER). 

See the latest report of the CIFER program.  NACC members are committed to working with NAV CANADA to improve operational efficiency to reduce aircraft emissions.

The Canadian commercial aviation industry works with multiple organizations to address the reduction of emissions from air travel.  The international industry perspective can be found on the International Air Transport Association (IATA) website. For detailed information about commercial aviation and the environment, we recommend the website developed by the international organization, the Air Transport Action Group (ATAG).


The impact on the environment of waste generated onboard aircraft is of concern to the NACC’s members, and is the subject of both individual member airline efforts and group discussions at the NACC Environment Subcommittee. Initiatives that our members have taken include reduction of packaging, efficient management of on-board catering supplies, and the elimination or reduction of on-board complimentary magazines and newspapers. These improvements have the added benefit of reducing aircraft weight, resulting in increased fuel efficiency and decreased emissions. Meanwhile the NACC continues to work with its partners to further advance the collection and recycling of plastic, paper and metal.

Glycol Mitigation

Glycol based de-icing and anti-icing fluids are commonly used to remove dangerous ice, snow, and/or frost build up from the aircraft’s critical surfaces.

To ensure that glycol does not enter the environment, glycol mitigation programs have been in place in Canadian airports, through the Airline Consultative Committees (ACC), since 1993. Prior to each de-icing season, plans are developed by all stakeholders, e.g., airport authorities, airlines, and de-icing service providers, etc., to ensure compliance with the 100 ppm Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA) guideline for glycol in surface waters.

At the end of each de-icing season, year-end meetings are held at each airport to review the effectiveness of the plans. Any exceedances of the guideline, reported during ongoing environmental testing, are reviewed and any necessary changes are identified and incorporated into the plan for the following year.

Noise Abatement

Transportation Canada’s Civil Aviation branch governs aircraft noise which is generally of most concern for those who live closest to airports. In addition to complying with Transport Canada guidelines and regulations, the NACC’s member airlines work with individual airport authorities, citizen airport noise groups, and local councils to reduce the impacts of aircraft noise in the communities they serve. To help advise the public and assist municipalities with zoning, Transport Canada maintains noise profiles and forecasts for airports across Canada. These are available to the public to assist with such decisions as where to buy a home or locate a business.

Health Canada has prepared the bulletin It’s Your Health: Aircraft Noise in the Vicinity of Airports which provides a summary of science-based information of the effects of aircraft noise on humans.

Airspace Change Communications and Consultation Protocol

NACC also participated  in the development of the Airspace Change Communications and Consultation Protocol. This Consultation Protocol outlines a strong commitment by Canada’s air sector to improve consultation with communities affected when flight path changes are proposed around major airports.

Fostering competitive air travel

Supporting and implementing an efficient operating and cost framework for Canada’s air carriers is essential to the economic well-being of our communities.

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