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Doing Our Part

A new year is upon us, and it’s a safe bet that one of the major themes running through 2008 will be environmental responsibility. With that in mind, I’ll be devoting my first three columns of 2008 to the environmental issues we’re facing at American Airlines and to the things we’re doing to reduce our impact on the environment we all share.

One topic on a lot of people’s minds is emissions and their potential impact on global climate change. There is no avoiding the fact that jet aircraft emit carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. But it’s important to put our emissions in perspective. Aviation today contributes about 3 percent of all man-made carbon dioxide. Compare that with automobiles, which contribute 18 percent, and cattle production, which contributes 9 percent. Moreover, 80 percent of the carbon dioxide we emit comes from long-haul flights, for which no ecofriendlier alternative exists. To illustrate, if you were to fly on American — along with 200 or so other passengers — from New York to Miami, the emissions attributable to your journey would be far less than if you were to drive, on your own, in a car with average gas mileage.

The greenhouse gases we emit are, of course, a function of the fuel we burn. Given the soaring price of jet fuel in recent years, we certainly don’t need to have our arms twisted to embrace fuel conservation. At American Airlines, we have become much more fuel efficient in recent years. Through a company-wide initiative called Fuel Smart, we have found hundreds of ways to reduce the amount of fuel we burn, both in the air and on the ground. Among other things, we have removed less-efficient aircraft from our fleet, found creative ways to reduce the amount of weight we carry, and installed winglets — extensions at the tips of our wings, which reduce drag and increase fuel efficiency — on hundreds of aircraft.

We have also gotten better at determining the most fuel-efficient speeds and altitudes at which to fly as well as what is the optimum way to distribute the cargo we carry in the bellies of our aircraft. We’ve changed the way we taxi our planes, and we’ve replaced fossil-fuel burning with electric ground service equipment at many airports. Our Fuel Smart initiatives — of which these are just a small sampling — have helped us endure record fuel prices and have enabled us to dramatically reduce our emissions. In fact, from 2002 to 2006, we reduced our annual greenhouse gas emissions by 1.6 million metric tons. We intend to reduce our carbon footprint even more in the year to come, in part through a major fleet refreshment we have launched, which we think can increase our overall fuel economy by 30 percent by 2025.

We all have a stake in reducing the emissions associated with air travel, and we all have a role to play. As you may know, the inadequacies of the U.S. air traffic control system force airlines to fl y very inefficient routes, leading to tens of millions of metric tons of unnecessary emissions every year. In fact, studies have shown that inefficiencies in the ATC system are responsible for 10 to 15 percent of all the emissions from commercial aviation. I hope you will join our effort to reduce emissions by encouraging your representatives in Congress to support the modernization of our antiquated ATC system.

Operating a global airline will always require a lot of energy and resources. But I believe we can accomplish our mission of connecting the world while living up to our core belief in environmental responsibility, a topic I’ll discuss further in next month’s column.

Thank you for flying with us today, and happy New Year!