Transatlantic airline fuel efficiency ranking, 2017

Published: 2018.09.11

Brandon Graver and Daniel Rutherford

This report compares the fuel efficiency of 20 airlines operating nonstop flights between the mainland United States and Europe. It uses the same methodology as in the 2016 transpacific fuel efficiency ranking and updates a previous 2014 study on this market to account for actual “belly” freight carriage.


• Norwegian Air Shuttle was the most fuel-efficient airline on transatlantic operations in 2017, with an average fuel efficiency of 44 passenger-kilometers per liter of fuel (pax-km/L), 33% higher than the industry average. British Airways (BA) ranked as the least fuel-efficient, falling 22% below the industry average.

• The estimated gap between the most and least fuel-efficient transatlantic airlines widened from 51% in 2014 to 63% last year.  Norwegian’s average fuel efficiency increased by 3 pax-km/L, while British Airways’ decreased by 1 pax-km/L. Although the fuel efficiency of British Airways’ fleet increased, and average passenger load factors were similar in 2014 and 2017, the freight share of total payload and average seating density of BA’s fleet fell during this time.

• Aircraft fuel burn was found to be the most important driver of fuel efficiency overall, explaining almost 40% of the variation in airline fuel efficiency across carriers, followed by seating density, which accounted for one third of the variation. Freight share and passenger load factors were relatively less important.

• The industry average fuel efficiency improved from 33 pax-km/L in 2014 to 34 pax-km/L in 2017 after adjusting for a common modeling methodology. This improvement could be attributed to an increase in fuel-efficient aircraft. Between 2014 and 2017, the margin to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) carbon dioxide (CO2) emission standard for the average transatlantic aircraft improved from 8% to 5%, while passenger load factor, seating density, and freight share varied very little.

• Major improvers in the ranking from 2014 to 2017 include Virgin Atlantic (30 to 35 pax-km/L) and Aeroflot Russian Airlines (30 to 33 pax-km/L). These improvements are linked to the increased use of more fuel-efficient aircraft— the Boeing 787-9 for Virgin Atlantic and Boeing 777-300ER for Aeroflot. The introduction of new supersonic aircraft, which are expected to have fuel efficiencies around 7 pax-km/L, could reverse Virgin Atlantic’s efficiency gains.

This paper was revised on 22 October, 2018 to correctly depict the maximum takeoff mass of the Boeing 757-200 and 757-300 in tonnes, rather than thousand pounds. The original can be found here.