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Flying Green

How a local airline is stepping up in the fight for a cleaner environment

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By Dom Galeon

It’s often been pointed out that air travel contributes to air pollution. Sure, airplanes may not be producing as much greenhouse gas as land vehicles do. But with more people traveling abroad and with more commercial flights every year—just a little over 4.3 billion in 2018—the effects of air travel to the environment is palpable.

Futurists say that the obvious solution is to go electric, in the same manner that electric cars are the future of land travel. While there are already startups designing and developing electric passenger planes, at least for domestic flights, it will still take a number of years before any of these literally take off.

This doesn’t mean, however, that there isn’t much that airlines can do to mitigate the environmental costs of flying and tourism. It certainly is not how local airline Cebu Pacific looks at things. In October 2018, they launched their Juan Effect Sustainable Tourism campaign.

A partnership with the Department of Tourism, Juan Effect is a sustainable tourism program that seeks to engage travelers and local stakeholders alike in efforts to mitigate the impact of tourist arrivals on the environment. On a national level, Juan Effect seeks to encourage responsible travel among passengers and empower everyone to change at least one everyday habit. On a local level, Juan Effect will collaborate with island stakeholders to concerted action for the conservation of the environment. The first of these collaborations, the Juan Effect Siargao, was just launched last Friday, Jan. 11.

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“Juan Effect is part of broader initiatives at Cebu Pacific toward sustainability,” said Cebu Pacific chief executive Lance Gokongwei said in a speech he gave at the launch of Juan Effect. “Over the past several months, we have invested in technology that helps reduce fuel burn and its consequential carbon emissions. These include a fuel management system that helps optimize operations; the Runway Overrun Prevention System cockpit technology for our Airbus fleet to calculate optimal runway landing conditions; and Area Navigation data for more accurate navigation. Cebu Pacific recognizes its impact on the environment and we are committed to rolling out more initiatives to help protect our planet and ensure that we operate sustainably.”

To some, the efforts may not seem to be much. After all, what can taking out in-flight plastic utensils do? It turns out, a lot.

“On any given day, Cebu Pacific has about 400 flights. Those flights use approximately 8,190 plastic spoons and forks per day, 5,900 plastic cups, and 4,500 plastic stirrers daily. We want to cut down on our use of non-recyclable plastic to only what is necessary,” Lance explained.

You do the math. By doing away with at least 230 million plastic utensils a month, Cebu Pacific has significantly reduced the amount of plastic waste in the Philippines, which has been labeled in a 2015 survey by the Ocean Conservancy charity and the McKinsey Center for Business and Environment as the third largest producer of plastic wastes in the world, next only to China and Indonesia.

Now, all of Cebu Pacific’s domestic and international flights use eco-friendly utensils, bio-compostable cutlery made from polylactic acid (PLA) derived from cornstarch, which is a renewable resource. This material is molded the same way conventional plastic is, but it breaks down into harmless biomass or organic matter.

“While these seem like small measures, the Juan Effect campaign recognizes that these initiatives, when done by each of us and done consistently, will create a significant impact in helping protect our islands not only for our generation, but for future generations,” explained Lance. Indeed, no effort is small when it comes to keeping plastic waste levels to a manageable minimum.

But this isn’t the only thing the local airline is doing to help keep the skies clear. Over the past several months, Cebu Pacific has invested in technology and other operational measures that help reduce fuel burn and its consequential carbon emissions. These include a fuel management system that helps optimize operations. There’s also the Runway Overrun Prevention System (ROPS) cockpit technology for its Airbus fleet, which monitors and calculates optimal runway landing conditions. And then there’s the Area Navigation (RNAV) data for more accurate navigation and approaches to various airports, further reducing fuel usage.

“We are continually auditing our operations to see where and how else we can reduce our impact on the environment,” said Lance. “It is incumbent upon all of us to act now, while there is still time to manage tourist activities without harming the environment or putting livelihoods at risk.”

 

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