EasyJet is set to become the world’s first major airline to operate net-zero carbon flights across its entire network, after announcing it would offset all emissions.
The British budget airline said it would start offsetting all flights from Tuesday, which it said would cost about £25m in the next financial year through schemes to plant trees or avoid the release of additional carbon dioxide.
Johan Lundgren, the airline’s chief executive, said longer-term solutions were also needed. “We recognise that offsetting is only an interim measure, but we want to take action on our carbon emissions now,” he said. “Aviation will have to reinvent itself as quickly as it can.”
EasyJet’s move surpasses the recent pledges of rival airlines, including British Airways, whose parent company, IAG, promised last month to be carbon-neutral by 2050 and to start offsetting all domestic flights next year.
The German airline group Lufthansa has launched a business fare where all flights are automatically offset.
There is mounting pressure on the aviation industry to address its environmental impact. The UN agency ICAO has launched a limited global offsetting programme, Corsia, whereby governments have agreed to offset any growth in emissions, but campaigners argue this does not go far enough.
EasyJet’s announcement is unlikely to assuage environmental criticism, in a year during which it has launched domestic flights between Birmingham and Edinburgh, which are linked by fast rail routes, and expanded its airline capacity by more than 10%. The £25m figure easyJet has said it would cost to offset may also be called into question.
EasyJet announced it had signed a memorandum of understanding with the manufacturer Airbus to work in partnership to develop electric and electric hybrid planes for short-haul European flights. Lundgren said he hoped it would be “an important step towards making electric planes a reality”.
The airline said it would continue working with Wright Electric, a US firm that has developed a nine-seater electric plane expected to start flying in the coming weeks.
Lundgren said easyJet would take further measures including reducing the number of empty seats flown – although the proportion left empty on the average flight increased to 8.5 in every 100 seats last year.
EasyJet reported pre-tax profits of £427m for the year ending 30 September, in line with previous guidance but down 26% on 2018, a drop it ascribed to rising fuel prices and a tough operating environment – although it was boosted by strikes at rivals BA and Ryanair.
A record 96.1 million passengers flew with easyJet last year.
EasyJet has also relaunched its package holiday business, looking to increase customer numbers following the collapse of its major competitor Thomas Cook. EasyJet Holidays would relaunch in the UK before Christmas, hoping to at least break even in the next financial year, Lundgren said.
“We believe there is a gap in the market for a modern, relevant and flexible business for today’s consumer,” he added.
EasyJet expects to start flying routes as early as next February using airport slots at Gatwick and Bristol acquired from Thomas Cook’s administrators.