White paper

Fuel burn of new commercial jet aircraft: 1960 to 2019

Jet fuel use is a major contributor to global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, and the ICCT first analyzed the historical trends in fuel efficiency improvement of new commercial jet aircraft in 2009. In 2015, we updated the study and refined the analysis by using the International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) CO2 metric value (MV). This paper again updates our work by taking into account new aircraft types and deliveries from 2015 to 2019, and by including dedicated freighters delivered from 1960 to 2019. We follow the general methodology of the 2015 paper and assess fuel burn via both block fuel intensity in grams of fuel per tonne-kilometer and the MV, which aims to provide a “transport capability neutral” means of regulating aircraft fuel burn.

The average aircraft fuel burn reduction stagnated in the 2000s, and this latest analysis shows a return to 1% or more average annual reduction rate in the most recent decade. This is largely attributable to the introduction of various new, more fuel-efficient narrowbody and widebody aircraft models. But total CO2 emissions from commercial aviation have nonetheless increased alongside this trend, and meaningful aircraft emission standards will be pivotal for managing the climate impact of aviation. Our comparison of the recent fuel-efficiency performance of average new aircraft against ICAO’s CO2 standard, which is illustrated in the figure below, highlights a few important findings of this paper:

  • ICAO’s CO2 standard lags existing efforts of manufacturers by more than 10 years and needs to be tightened if it is to promote fuel burn technology innovation and adoption beyond business as usual.
  • While the average aircraft delivered in 2019 would have passed ICAO’s standard by 6%, the least fuel-efficient 10% of aircraft delivered in 2019 would have still failed. If manufacturers were provided with flexible means to comply, either within their product mix (averaging) or over time (banking), more stringent standards could be established based upon emerging technologies.
  • Because ICAO’s MV does not reward structural efficiency as evidently as the block fuel intensity metric does, additional measures could be considered to encourage structural efficiency, particularly those that promote the use of lightweight materials and efficient aircraft design. Differentiated landing fees based on the fuel burn of in-service aircraft are one possibility.
Tracking progress
Emissions modeling