Simon Calder, also known as The Man Who Pays His Way, has been writing about travel for The Independent since 1994. In his weekly opinion column, he explores a travel issue. important – and what it means to you.
Luton: birthplace of legends. Here I am not thinking about singer Paul Young or broadcaster Stacey Dooley, but two of Europe’s biggest low-cost airlines. Luton Airport was chosen by young businessman Stelios Haji-Ioannou as the base for the new airline easyJet in 1995. And nine years earlier, Bedfordshire Airport was the first destination from Dublin for an Irish startup with Ryanair’s name.
Since those early days, easyJet has turned Gatwick into its largest base, and Ryanair has moved east to Stansted. But both airlines maintain a significant presence in Luton along with a relatively new carrier, Wizz Air.
On Thursday this week, I went to the airport to meet Ryanair DAC CEO Eddie Wilson. Usually such events are held to promote new routes; This time, the story is new plans. Wilson is deploying three of its new Boeing 737 Max jets to the Beds base, and thus “reducing noise emissions by 40% and fuel consumption by 16% while providing 4% more capacity for the every plane”.
That last point – 4% more capacity – intrigued me. The fuselage is the same size as the previous version, but with eight additional seats. On the plane there was no feeling of being cramped, which I concluded was due to the use of thinner seats.
What makes me even more curious is how low-cost airlines are now doing their best because of their concern for the environment.
“Sustainable growth” is Ryanair’s new way of doing things. “We are the only airline of a growing scale that could dramatically change the dial in capacity over the next few years,” the CEO told me.
Meanwhile, Wizz Air announced this week that it is investing £5 million in a company called Firefly Green Fuels, which plans to make sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) from sludge. . Firefly CEO James Hygate said the raw material is “available in large quantities globally”. (The conversion rate, I calculate, is 228 tons of unwanted waste into one ton of SAF.)
Five years from now, the airline plans to reduce annual emissions by the equivalent of 12,000 round trips between Luton and its European Headquarters in Budapest.
Across from easyJet Luton’s headquarters, a large orange warehouse, with a focus on hydrogen. The goal is to have an “easyJet-sized aircraft” – carrying around 200 passengers – by 2035. The airline believes the most promising option is to work with Rolls-Royce to pioneer the development of engine technology. hydrogen burning. While we wait for that to happen, passengers who bring their reusable cups on board will save 50 cents on hot drinks.
What, a skeptic might say, is the kind of tokenism that shows how clearly reducing emissions is out of reach. But Jonathan Rayner, commercial director at Luton Airport, said: “As well as our commitment to achieving net zero carbon emissions at our own airport by 2040, we I am working closely with my airlines to reduce their emissions.”
Also on Thursday, Jet2 announced an investment in a new sustainable aviation fuel plant to be built in Cheshire.
“Production of the SAF is expected to commence at the plant in 2027,” the Leeds-based airline said. “At full capacity, 600,000 tonnes of non-recyclable household waste, which should have been incinerated or landfilled, will be converted into approximately 100 million liters of SAF annually.”
After years of fare wars, it’s exciting to see low-cost airlines engage in the “green war”. I will watch, and wait. But the final word on sustainable aviation fuels belongs to my colleague Helen Coffey, who doesn’t have a flight. “The SAF has a role to play in reducing aviation emissions – but a relatively small part, rather than the main role they are currently being played by industry and politicians alike.”