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The oldest airline in existence, KLM, is building the world’s largest biofuel plant in the Netherlands.
Last week, KLM celebrated its 100th birthday. However, rather than celebrating the past, they are looking towards the future by doubling-down on its commitment to making the airline industry cleaner and smarter.
Faced with tough competition, existential concerns about the planet’s survival, and a perpetual need to innovate, CEO Pieter Elbers admitted that “looking back is nice, but looking forward is certainly more relevant.”
While the airline has earned a reputation for leading the charge in digital transformation—from adopting biometrics at boarding to experimenting with blockchain technology to facilitate exchanges with customers and partners—its ambition for the years to come is to double down on its leadership in sustainable innovation.
Today the company uses 57 times more biofuel per flight than in 2011, reducing carbon emissions by up to 85%. In 2018 alone, KLM’s carbon-offset program CO2ZERO has allowed 90,000 passengers to compensate for the impact—about 40,000 tons of CO2—by supporting reforestation initiatives in Panama.
For KLM, it’s a short- and long-term game. Beginning in March 2020, one daily flight between Amsterdam and Brussels will be replaced with seats on the Thalys high-speed train, with other route substitutes currently being explored.
And projecting the company beyond its 2030 goals, Pieter Elbers has led KLM toward the future of sustainable aircraft design by helping to fund TU Delft’s research into the Flying-V, an aerodynamic, fuel-efficient concept that would integrate passenger seats and cargo into the wings of the plane and use 20% less fuel than a current Airbus A350. Key to the project? Younger students.
“Working alongside the younger generation is an incredibly powerful force for moving forward,” Elbers said. “Attracting and engaging with that talent pool is one way we can innovate and survive.”