The aviation industry is hugely important for people and the economy. At the same time, it bears a high level of responsibility for our environment. Airlines are currently undergoing a huge transformation toward sustainability. As a tech company and airline IT provider, Lufthansa Systems is committed to identifying our own environmental footprint and improving that of its more than 350 customers worldwide to actively shaping the green shift in aviation. In this interview, Olivier Krueger, CEO & Chairman of the Board of Lufthansa Systems, discusses how digital solutions can drive green innovation and help achieve international climate goals.
The world is demanding a new and more sustainable approach to the travel industry. What role do new technologies and digitalization play in tackling the challenges of climate change?
OK: Innovative technologies are an essential tool on our journey to a sustainable future for aviation. We want to trigger solutions that optimize operational processes along the entire travel chain and reduce carbon footprint. The key is to combine data sources, gather insights on environmental impacts and develop intelligent software. While powerful IT solutions already support climate-sensitive planning and decision-making, we are only at the beginning of what we can accomplish. To drive innovative approaches forward, we are working across divisions to combine in-depth industry knowledge with forward-looking technological expertise.
Can you give us a specific example of how smart solutions support a more sustainable industry?
OK: There are several ways to improve the air travel industry’s environmental footprint. Flight routing, for example, has a direct and substantial effect on fuel consumption and carbon emissions, with smart planning and calculations that allow us to minimize these effects. Our flight planning software Lido Flight 4D calculates the most efficient flight route, taking into account all current, flight-relevant data. This enables airlines to reduce flight times and costs and save up to five percent of the fuel required compared to other solutions in the market, generating annual savings of around 270,000 tons of carbon emissions for a network carrier. Another example is network design and planning. Our NetLine/HubDesigner uses the available fleet and demand patterns to create a network optimized for low carbon emissions by adding penalties for such emissions and enhancing fleets with partner flights and intermodal traffic alternatives.
Another way to adopt more sustainable approaches is to digitize the aircraft. With our electronic charting solutions, we are helping airlines to achieve a paperless flight deck. This has reduced our printing volume by 75% in the last three years, which corresponds to savings of around 100 tons of paper over this period. However, a paperless aircraft consists of more than just the flight deck. Our ongoing efforts to increase connectivity in the cabin led us to develop a wireless in-flight entertainment platform. This helps airlines to digitalize seat pockets by transforming content into a digital service delivered directly to passengers’ devices.
While there are many more examples I could mention, let me highlight another facet that I am particularly proud of. We are part of the Lufthansa Group’s CleanTech Hub, which accelerates the implementation of clean technologies within the Group’s airlines and fosters collaboration with external pioneers.
Can you tell us more about the CleanTech Hub?
OK: Climate protection is a challenge for all of us, and we can only make a difference by working together. The CleanTech Hub is a virtual center of excellence, a platform that connects the Lufthansa Group’s airlines and subsidiaries as well as start-ups and research institutes. It is an inspiring space for collaboration that facilitates, motivates and stimulates clean technology and sustainability initiatives by providing access to resources, augmenting initiatives and accelerating the time to market. At the end of the day, the goal is to drive green technologies that reduce carbon emissions, non-carbon, noise and waste emissions of Lufthansa Group flight operations while at the same time changing behaviors, scaling up, and future-proofing our industry. The CleanTech Hub consists of five focus areas and I am proud to be the sponsor of the ‘Digital Solutions and Procedures’ focus area. We work cross-functionally to bring IT capabilities and knowledge leaders together.
What role does data play in driving forward this green transformation?
Data is the only way forward. Collaboration between regulators, airports and airlines should be at the top of the agenda, because mutual exchange and transparency offer an excellent opportunity to access a vast source of data. But the work does not stop there. The industry needs to go one step further by making good use of this data. Adopting machine learning and AI-powered automation tools helps to create a more efficient decision-making process. Our IT experts support airlines on this journey together with our start-up zeroG, which is dedicated to unlocking the intrinsic power of data to improve the world of aviation.
Given the current global circumstances, airlines now benefit more than ever from automated optimization solutions that result in significant cost savings, increased operational stability and reduced environmental impact. To give one example, preventing contrails can significantly reduce aviation’s impact on global warming and climate change. Based on new weather data and specific rule sets, we are working closely with our partners to develop an optimizer that can avoid ice super saturated regions and in doing so prevent the generation of contrails.
Anyone who would like to learn more about the role of data in achieving sustainability targets might be interested in joining me in the panel discussion about “How do we achieve ambitious industry sustainability targets and what role can (sharing) our data start-ups play in this?” on Wednesday, December 1 at 3:35 PM at the World Aviation Festival in London.
Before we close, do you have a piece of advice that you would like to share with industry colleagues concerning the sustainability agenda?
In 2019, we experienced an aviation infrastructure pushed to its limits, both at airports and in the air. Then the COVID-19 pandemic swept the globe and triggered an immense crisis in the aviation industry, causing travel restrictions and volatile demand. The huge transformation currently underway in the airline industry represents our best chance to address climate change. It is imperative that we move toward a greener future for aviation, and the discussion about how to get there is finally picking up speed. The current transformation process should incentivize us to rethink our industry and take inspiration from these promising developments. Our way forward is simple: together, we must act responsibly today for a sustainable tomorrow, and I invite all of our colleagues to join us on this journey to shape a more sustainable future.
Olivier Krueger, CEO of Lufthansa Systems