Next meeting: Apr 20th: 7:30 Central
Is High Speed Rail gonna save the Airlines?
Cascadia Rail - Vancouver Airport
Environment & Energy Leader
Institution of Mechanical Engineers
The Colorado Sun
From the Captain
Is High Speed Rail gonna Save the Airlines?
Back in 1990s, it was Southwest Airlines who shut down the Houston to Dallas high speed rail project. At the time that market was Southwest’s bread and butter route and they weren’t giving the HSR project any love. 30 years later, things have changed. Southwest is now a major US carrier, and the Texas project is moving along. Could supporting high speed now be their savor?
The airline industry has an image problem. As greenhouse gas emissions are being recognized as a driver of climate change, what happens when people look up to the sky and see the contrails from a jetliner? The airlines are gonna be a target (granted contrails are not the pollutant, but they are image that people can grab onto).
As we have talked about before, flight shaming is a real thing and in France there is proposed legislation to forbid airlines from flying the same route as a high speed train. So what is an airline to do?
Well let's start by seeing what they are doing now...
AA has buried its sustainability strategy in its “Environmental, social and Governance” section. Granted it is the first major topic addressed in the report, but American’s solution to CO2 includes:
Increasing the number of seats onboard the airplane to carry more people
Carry more cargo
Better Air Traffic Control
Carbon offsets (IE plant trees)
Ok, I laughed at increasing the number of seats onboard as a solution. Now American has subscribed to the net zero carbon emissions by 2050. However, they really don’t have a solid strategy
From the main website, it is impossible to find Alaska’s sustainability strategy.
However, if you go to “Who we are”, then find “Corporate Information”, and finally find that the sustainability webpage is more about recycling, but then you find “emissions”. Their solution is about more efficient aircraft, flying direct, waste reduction and then finally sustainable aviation fuel is way at the bottom. You can also buy carbon offset, if you please
(Grade C-, because I have heard of Alaska working on biofuels, but their website stinks)
Is more of the same as American Airlines. However, in the Delta Corporate Responsibility Report sustainability ranks below clean drinking water on planes (not talking cleaning polluted water…. we are talking about the water used for the coffee). So Delta pretty much is the worst of the bunch
(Grade: D, just because clean water for coffee rates higher than CO2 emission)
From their main website, it is very hard to find Southwest’s sustainability strategy. You need to go to Southwest Citizenship webpage, find a very small icon for the “One Report”. Then you find “Planet” on the main menu. From there it is more of the same as the other airlines on fuel efficiency, except by clicking to another page do you finally find details on Green House gas emissions. Their main strategy appears to be a have committed to purchasing 3 million gallons of sustainable bio fuels. Hmm. That seems to be a reoccurring theme.
Boom…Right on the home page United is advertising its Eco skies initiative!
No doubt about it; United (UA) is marketing its green movement. No doubt about it. Click on the link and they are asking corporations to join in Eco skies, contact your officials, and even take your money to contribute to sustainable aviation fuels.
Sadly, UA then buries its environmental commitment down at the bottom menus of the front page, but when you find that link the whole world pops open. UA by far Is the most aggressive in sustainability. UA has the goal of going 100% green by 2050 and sustainable fuel sources at the top. However, then they go an extra step by talking about investing in carbon capture and sequestration technology (talking about the big fans that pull carbon from the air) and directly investing in electric airplanes. A link under each title takes you to each subject. It is cool that they are taking the time to even explain how these functions work.
Oh, and no talk of clean water for coffee makers, increased seating, or even recycling. United really is taking the lead here!
(Grade A-, excellent but they still don’t have a plan for true CO2 emission free transportation)
So high speed rail has the potential to be 100% carbon free. However, except for United there really doesn’t appear to be any serious plans for addressing sustainability in one of the industries most likely to be labeled as a polluter. However, imagine the power of having a plan for an airline that is not only 100% sustainability, but will also increase market access, increase reliability, increased customer satisfaction, all the while lowering costs.
We might be onto something here. The problem is how do we change the perception of high speed rail as less a threat to the airlines, and more like a savior?
Cascadia Rail Part 3: Vancouver International Airport (Gateway to Asia)
Where is the Northwest Gateway to Asia? Well it’s not Seattle?
Located just over the Canadian border, Vancouver International Airport (YVR) has more international flights than Seattle and Portland combined, and we are not including the flights to United States (called transborder). From YVR it is possible to catch a flights to Munich to Melbourne (Australia) or from Manila to Montego Bay.
There is a reason for this international service.
First Vancouver is an international hub for Air Canada. Second Vancouver has a very large Asian population. In fact, while 49% of the population is of European origin, 46.5% of the population is of Asian origin with 20.6% of the population being Chinese.
Finally, unlike American airports Canadian airports are much more welcoming to transiting passengers (IE passengers who fly from one country to another and only stop for a change of planes). In the US these transiting passengers as required to enter then leave the US, meaning they need a visa and have to go through customs and immigration just to transfer flights to another county. However, in Vancouver transiting passengers never have to enter Canada and can easily transfer flights.
What this means for Cascadia Rail is not only will high speed rail reduce the number of regional flights, but also reduce congestion due to international flights. Of course, the problem is that Air Canada in YVR is in the Star Alliance, while Delta is in Skyteam, while Alaska is part of OneWorld. So consolidation of international flights wouldn’t necessarily be for efficiency, as much as one airline stealing traffic from another. Which considering the Canadian dollar exchange rate may mean it would be cheaper for a Seattleite to take the train to YVR and then flying to Asia rather than flying Delta out of Seattle.
Of course, this issue is the Cascadia Rail project is not planning to do to YVR Airport. Instead it is planned to go to Surrey which is about 10 miles from YVR. But that route is still to be discussed.