KLM's Centenary Inspires Increased Aviation Sustainability Initiatives

The world’s oldest air carrier still operating under its original name, KLM Dutch Royal Airlines, celebrates its centenary this year.

On October 7, 2019, the airline held a special celebration at Amsterdam Schiphol airport to commemorate the century that’s passed since Queen Wilhelmina bestowed the royal designation upon KLM in 1919 and the airline made its first flight from London to Amsterdam.

KLM can point to plenty of past aviation milestones. After World War II, KLM became the first European carrier to fly to New York in 1946 and, in 1966, was the first airline to publish an in-flight magazine, which is still in print.

However, honoring past achievements isn’t the only focus of KLM’s anniversary celebration, as it looks towards the future of flying and anticipates exciting innovations that will be implemented in air travel over the next 100 years.

Its own future could be said to begin with a campaign that KLM launched just this year, centered on the idea of flying responsibly. In light of continuously escalating concerns over climate change, CEO Pieter Elbers told Condé Nast Traveler that the company has a “shared responsibility” to promote awareness about the environmental impact of passengers’ travel choices and to help them make greener decisions.

The campaign asks the public to consider using video conferences rather than journeying to meet in person or to traverse shorter routes by train in order to lessen their carbon footprints.

Much of KLM’s vision for the future of the company, and the aviation industry at large, centers around making air travel more sustainable. Like many airlines, KLM is making its fleet more fuel-efficient, retiring 747 jumbo jets and purchasing lower-emissions aircraft like the Boeing 787-8, 787-9 and 787-10 Dreamliner.

While planes are already more fuel-efficient than in decades past, KLM wants to push the leading edge of sustainability by funding research at the Delft University of Technology to develop its own, highly fuel-efficient craft, called the ‘Flying V’.

The futuristic design repositions the passenger cabin, cargo hold and fuel tanks inside of the wings themselves, theoretically reducing drag created by a traditional fuselage. If this model becomes a reality, it would use 20 percent less fuel than the most eco-friendly plane currently in use, the Airbus A350-900.

Elbers told Condé Nast Traveler that KLM would share its research and design with its competitors, as it aims to affect environmentally-conscious change across the entire industry.

KLM also anticipates new developments in the types of fuel used in aircraft and is itself already the world’s biggest user of biofuel. The airline is aiding in the development of a first-of-its-kind biofuel plant in the Netherlands, set to open in 2022.

Its eco-conscious mindset also extends to an expansion of its current recycling program. Old items, such as worn-out crew uniforms and headrest covers, are being processed into aircraft carpeting and laptop cases. Beverage bottles left on planes are also being gathered up and turned into plastic aviation components, signage, etc.

Through example and shared knowledge, KLM hopes that the next 100 years will see the world flying responsibly and sustainably so that its beautiful places are always there to be enjoyed.

For more information, visit KLM.com.

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