UCI News

39-cent-per-gallon jet fuel fee would yield $117 million a year in environmental benefits

Surcharge would reduce airline consumption, lower carbon emissions, UCI study finds

July 20, 2016

Irvine, Calif., July 20, 2016 – Charging airlines an emissions fee of 39 cents per gallon on jet fuel would generate an environmental benefit of $117 million per year by reducing usage and lessening carbon pollution, according to a University of California, Irvine study.

“The world’s airlines account for only about 2.5 percent of global carbon emissions, but emissions at high altitudes do double the damage of those at ground level,” said lead author Jan K. Brueckner, UCI Chancellor’s Professor of economics. “The U.N. International Civil Aviation Organization’s recently proposed aircraft fuel efficiency standards will have a very gradual effect. Our paper shows that emissions charges, like those levied by the European Union on its own airlines, would have a much quicker and more widespread impact.”

The research links aviation carbon emissions – which are directly proportional to fuel usage – to the types of planes in an airline’s fleet and their operating characteristics. Emissions grow in step with the “available ton miles” flown by a jetliner. These are calculated by multiplying the carrying capacity of a plane by the miles traveled.

The following factors were found to lower airlines’ carbon emissions:

  • Big jets, which are more fuel-efficient per seat
  • Long-distance flights, in which most of the time is spent in cruise mode
  • Newer planes, which incorporate more fuel-efficient technology
  • Higher fuel prices

“The cost of fuel is one of the crucial variables in controlling fuel usage, and emissions charges levied on the airlines would act just like a price increase,” explained Brueckner, who conducted the research with visiting UCI researcher Chrystyane Abreu of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. “It forces the airlines to improve efficiency through such fuel-saving operational practices as taxiing on one engine, carrying less extra fuel and installing wingtip devices that reduce lift-induced drag.”

The 39-cent-per-gallon fee is the estimated cost of environmental damage from aviation carbon emissions. Levying this charge would trim airline emissions by 2.2 percent, the researchers project, resulting in the $117 million-per-year environmental benefit.

“As time passes, airlines will adjust their fleets in response to this emissions charge by retiring old planes more quickly and demanding greater fuel efficiency in new ones,” Brueckner said. “The benefits of the charge will continue to grow, but even the short-term effect of more than $100 million annually – which comes from greater fuel conservation efforts – is noteworthy.”

The study also shows that cutting flight delays by just 3 percentage points from an average of about 20 percent could lower airlines’ fuel usage and emissions, producing almost $50 million in environmental benefits a year.

About the University of California, Irvine: Founded in 1965, UCI is the youngest member of the prestigious Association of American Universities. The campus has produced three Nobel laureates and is known for its academic achievement, premier research, innovation and anteater mascot. Led by Chancellor Howard Gillman, UCI has more than 30,000 students and offers 192 degree programs. It’s located in one of the world’s safest and most economically vibrant communities and is Orange County’s second-largest employer, contributing $5 billion annually to the local economy. For more on UCI, visit www.uci.edu.

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