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Air China leads Chinese 'Big 3' in Emissions Efficiency Improvements

IBA, the leading aviation market intelligence and consultancy company, has today published an analysis of the improving emissions footprint of the ‘Big 3’ Chinese airlines, revealing that Air China is leading the field.

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Using its NetZero platform, IBA’s team have revealed that Air China’s CO2 emissions per seat per km for 2022 stood at 77.50g, ranking its emissions efficiency slightly higher than China Southern Airlines at 77.54g, and significantly better than China Eastern Airlines at 83.82g.


Air China’s emissions efficiency has also increased the most between 2019 and 2022, registering a 5.3% decrease in CO2 emissions per seat per km, compared to a 3.9% drop for China Southern and a 2.2% drop for China Eastern.


IBA analysis shows that all three airlines have relatively young fleets, compared to the global average of 13.6 years. In addition, all three carriers have a significant order book: Air China have 126 aircraft on order, China Eastern have 177 and China Southern have 176. Most of these orders will continue to renew their narrowbody fleets - mainly with aircraft from A320neo family.


IBA has also published its emissions ratings for all three airlines, reflecting their carbon intensity trends both now and forecast for the future.



Air China and China Southern are currently operating at an average global level, with investment in young and efficient fleet reflecting in their current emission intensity, which is continuing to trend downwards. China Southern, in particular, performs very strongly on short-haul sectors, where its majority narrowbody fleet can be maximised. IBA forecasts that with further renewal and the potential return of international passengers post pandemic, its carbon intensity will start to fall.


China Eastern currently scores slightly lower because it has a small amount of low emitting aircraft, and because over half of its emissions come in the medium haul sector, where the carbon intensity of larger aircraft is higher..


IBA’s analysis shows that all three airlines have potential to accelerate their paths to net zero by adopting traditional decarbonisation pathways such as investment in sustainable fuels and improving operational efficiencies. China is beginning to formulate net-zero pathways for aviation, after committing to the country-wide policy of peaking emissions in 2030. In the short-term, they are focusing on voluntary offset schemes and operational efficiency improvements. In IBA’s view, if their strategies towards SAF (sustainable aviation fuel) and market-based-measures continue to improve. Alongside aviation becoming part of the national carbon market in the near future, all three airlines have potential to improve their mitigation pathway outlook ratings.


Oliver Gong, IBA’s Sales Director, China, comments: “The 'Big 3' airlines are state-run companies, and their attitudes about carbon emissions depend on state policies. Although China has a roadmap towards decarbonization, there are no detailed guidelines for decarbonization and maturity carbon trade markets in China. So far, there seems to be no obvious incentives offered to make the big leap forward towards decarbonization.


The journey forward is a long one, however in the short term, the Big 3 seem to be approaching this with caution. Besides the big 3, more and more Chinese airlines, such as HNA, will join the movement to improve carbon emissions. They all want to learn more about the international trend before they make a next big move.


China is one of the world’s largest and most significant aviation markets, and the sustainable actions of its largest airlines set trends for the wider region. IBA will be closely tracking and analysing their actions in the coming year, building on our work in the region, including our recent appointment as the official appraiser for the Comac C919 programme.”



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About IBA

IBA delivers the best of all worlds - deep aviation consultancy expertise, and cutting edge and actionable data insights, all delivered by a proven, expert team with a strong customer focus.


An independent, innovative and forward-thinking business, IBA has over 30 years of heritage and experience in aviation. Named 'Appraiser of the Year' by their clients for five years, and most

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