I had a fascinating meeting at WTM yesterday with NatureAir, the world’s first (and only) carbon neutral airline.
It’s going through an exciting period right now. It’s hoping to sign codeshare agreements with international players like Continental Airlines, Copa, Mexicana and Iberia in the near future.
This means passengers won’t have to check their luggage back in at Costa Rica’s San Jose airport before they fly onto their final destination with NatureAir.
The airline currently flies only within Costa Rica and to Panama and Nicaragua, but commercial director Alexi Khajavi told me he hopes to expand into Colombia, Honduras and Guatemala soon too.
The airline is based in Costa Rica and offsets all of the carbon emissions it creates by supporting reforestation and conservation projects. It also uses some of the most fuel-efficient aircraft on the market, and runs its craft on biofuel. In May this year, it won a prestigious award for conservation from the World Travel and Tourism Council.
“In one year, what we emit through 100,000 flights is the same as a Boeing 747 in one flight from New York to Heathrow,” Alexi says.
When you see the vast list of ways in which NatureAir gives back – both to the environment and to local communities – you might suppose the airline would struggle to make a profit, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
“None of our sustainable practices would matter if we weren’t a profit-making business, which we are,” says Alexi. “We’ve taken market share, and we’re growing at a rate of 20% per year.”
I can’t see why other domestic and regional airlines have not followed suit; committing to carbon neutrality certainly seems to have been a successful business model for NatureAir. Alexi points out that NatureAir’s typical client is environmentally-conscious and does not mind paying slightly more for their ticket, in order to fly with a more sustainable airline.
Alexi would certainly welcome other airlines copying NatureAir’s example: “We will always be the first airline to go carbon neutral but we don’t want to be the only one,” he says. “The aviation business is going in this direction. You’ve either got to get on the bus or you’re going to get run over.”
I was impressed to hear that Alexi’s colleagues are attending Copenhagen next month to represent the aviation industry alongside five or six massive international carriers. A “David and Goliath situation” by Alexi’s own admission but NatureAir seems to have just the kind of forward-thinking the aviation industry so desperately needs.