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Our Decarbonization Pathway

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We expect progress toward our climate goals to be driven by the following levers: Fleet renewal, sustainable aviation fuel, operational improvements, and, to a limited extent with respect to our net zero goal, removal offsets.
Technological innovation with respect to each of these levers will be critical, as well as stakeholder engagement and coalition and policy development.

1. Fleet

Delta plans to continue our fleet renewal in support of our environmental sustainability efforts, and we expect fleet renewal to play a significant role in progressing our climate goals. In the short term, this means aiming for annual improvements in fleet-wide fuel efficiency each year through 2035, which, if achieved, we expect would represent a meaningful reduction in fuel consumption rate over this period from 2019 to 2035. Following 2035, we envision availability of next-generation aircraft technology such as the deployment of novel airframe designs and advanced propulsion technologies that could continue to improve fuel efficiency.

2. Sustainable Aviation Fuel

SAF will play a key role in aviation’s decarbonization pathway but is currently not available at scale or at price parity with conventional jet fuel. For the aviation industry to achieve net zero by 2050, an exponential increase to 330-445 billion gallons of SAF by 2050 could be required, according to the Air Transport Action Group (ATAG), an independent coalition that provides a platform for the commercial aviation sector to work together on long-term sustainability issues.
By 2030, Delta aims to procure more than 400 million gallons of SAF annually to meet our 10% goal, which is almost 40 times the total global SAF production in 2019.
By 2030, Delta aims to procure more than 400 million gallons of SAF annually to meet our 10% goal, which is almost 40 times the total global SAF production in 2019.
In 2021, Delta joined the First Movers Coalition, a public-private partnership and platform designed to accelerate and scale the development of breakthrough technologies and fuels for hard-to-decarbonize sectors.
Delta is establishing a goal to replace at least 5% of conventional jet fuel consumption with SAF that achieves at least an 85% reduction in life cycle GHG emissions relative to conventional jet fuel by 2030, pending availability and feasibility. Achieving these ambitious goals will require collaboration and action by numerous stakeholders.
For example, critical building blocks for scaling SAF include:

Government Incentives

Incentives that are performance-based, as well as feedstock- and technology-neutral, are required to help drive investment towards the development of SAF at a reasonable cost. For example, at the federal level, a ten-year, SAF-specific Blenders Tax Credit coupled with a dedicated grant program are some of the policy supports necessary to help catalyze the domestic market. Additionally, at the state level, incentives and programs such as California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard’s voluntary opt-in program for SAF need to be more widely adopted to economically bring SAF to other geographic locations. As international governments seek to drive investment in SAF, we caution that mandates without incentives will fail to ensure sufficient supply and reasonable pricing.

SAF Accounting Framework

One of the benefits of SAF is that it can be delivered and stored as a “drop-in fuel” using existing pipelines and storage infrastructure. However, because it is co-mingled with conventional jet fuel, an effective book-and-claim framework will be necessary from a carbon accounting perspective.
Current feedstock and technologies can produce SAF with up to 80% lower life cycle emissions than conventional jet fuel, which can be blended with conventional jet fuel at up to 50%.
Over the long term, there needs to be a shift to next generation SAF such as power-to-liquid fuels and the ability to blend at more than 50%. Power-to-liquid SAF is a liquid hydrocarbon fuel synthetically produced using renewable energy, water and carbon dioxide.
Achieving these SAF goals will require working with manufacturers and fuel providers on regulatory approvals, in addition to significant investments in renewable electricity. These fuels, coupled with the use of direct air capture of carbon at the SAF production facility, have the potential to achieve life cycle emissions reductions beyond the 80% maximum estimated today.

What is Sustainable Aviation Fuel?

SAF is an alternative jet fuel that achieves lower life cycle emissions compared to conventional fuel using various feedstocks such as used cooking oil, cellulosic waste and municipal solid waste. SAF is produced through approved conversion processes, such as Fischer-Tropsch, HEFA (hydroprocessed esters and fatty acids) and co-processing.
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has developed SAF sustainability requirements, including minimum emission reductions, land use and food security considerations among other factors. SAF must meet these requirements to be eligible for compliance with CORSIA.
To certify the sustainability of SAF, ICAO has approved the International Sustainability and Carbon Certification (ISCC) and Roundtable of Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB).
Delta requires that our SAF production partners verify the sustainability of their products to either the ISCC or RSB. We do not procure or accept SAF made from palm oil or PFAD.

Life Cycle Emissions of Fuel

From Well-to-Wake
Delta has reported “tank-to-wake” combustion emissions since 2005 as part of our greenhouse gas emissions inventory. Sustainable aviation fuel emissions are reported on a full life cycle “well-to-wake” basis in order to demonstrate the emissions reductions. In an effort to increase transparency, and in accordance with SBTi guidance, going forward our GHG emissions will include “well-to-wake” fuel emissions.
Life cycle emissions take into account the GHG emissions at every stage of the fuel’s life—from development and production to its ultimate use.
Life cycle emissions from SAF can currently be up to 80% lower than conventional jet fuel because production of the feedstock either absorbs carbon dioxide in the atmosphere or avoids generation of GHG emissions associated with the disposal and decomposition of the feedstock as a waste.
For plant-based feedstocks, the analysis also takes into account the potential GHG emissions increases from Indirect Land Use Changes (ILUC). These emissions can result from increased feedstock production due to increased fuel demand.

3. Operational Improvements

We are also working to execute on and track operational initiatives to reduce jet fuel consumption and improve emissions intensity. Delta’s Carbon Council is charged with managing fuel burn and driving reductions in fuel consumption through cross-divisional collaboration and aims to establish a trajectory of reductions in fuel consumption to progress toward our medium- and long-term sustainability goals.
To effectively drive further improvement in fuel efficiency, the Carbon Council is supported by strategic working groups consisting of a handful of business units each for focused collaboration on specific initiatives. Each working group can spearhead progress in its dedicated area while identifying opportunities and roadblocks to communicate to the executive leadership team.
The Carbon Council’s executive leadership team plans to meet regularly to guide decision making and drive continued progress on fuel reduction initiatives.

Carbon Council Initiatives

Below are five Carbon Council initiatives to reduce fuel consumption, along with prior examples of their successful implementation:
Fixed Weight: Reducing the weight that is permanently installed on the plane. E.g., wireless seatback entertainment and carbon brakes.
Flight Operations: Changes to routing and flight planning to reduce fuel burn. E.g., investments in flight planning software and collaboration with Air Traffic Control regarding established Required Navigation Performance (EoR).
Additionally, Delta will continue to seek to collaborate with governments, airports and others on cross-industry initiatives.
One example of this ongoing collaboration is through the NextGen Advisory Committee, which provides independent advice and recommendations to the FAA related to air traffic management.
Ground Operations: Investments in ground procedures to reduce fuel burn. E.g., investments in communications technologies and APU procedure compliance.
Variable Weight: Reducing the weight that is boarded on the plane. E.g., removal of Sky Magazine and reducing the weight of Unit Load Devices (e.g., cargo pallets).
Aerodynamic Modifications: Permanent modifications to aircraft to improve their aerodynamic performance. E.g., investments in split-scimitar winglets and blade-tip coating research with the U.S. Air Force.

4. Offsets

Although offsets will not be relevant to our medium-term, science-based target, removals and next generation offsets will likely be needed to meet our net zero goal.
For Delta to reach net zero, out-of-sector solutions will likely be a necessary complement to fleet, SAF, operational initiatives and other in-sector technology improvements, and there will be a need to transition from avoidance (preventing deforestation) and reduction (solar, wind) type projects to removal projects that are absorbing incremental and additional CO2 from the atmosphere. Nature-based solutions such as afforestation and reforestation or technology offsets such as direct air capture and carbon sequestration technologies will be necessary.
While our primary focus is on decarbonizing aviation and reaching net zero by 2050, Delta has also supported out-of-sector solutions for many years by purchasing carbon offsets.
To achieve global climate goals, deforestation needs to be halted by 2030. We allocated a portion of our offset portfolio for 2021 to support climate mitigation efforts that can impact emissions in the near-term, such as through the prevention of deforestation.
We expect much of the remaining investment in support of our goal to spend $1 billion through 2030 toward airline carbon neutrality to be focused on solutions other than offsets.
In 2021, we also joined the LEAF Coalition to mobilize public and private support around ending deforestation and the Taskforce on Scaling Voluntary Carbon Markets Advisory Board in an effort to drive more transparency in the offset market.
We expect much of the remaining investment in support of our goal to spend $1 billion through 2030 toward airline carbon neutrality to be focused on solutions other than offsets. However, CORSIA, which limits net international carbon emissions to 2019 levels, will require the use of out-of-sector offsets to address growth in emissions. Offsets that meet ICAO’s criteria will be used to achieve this obligation.