Following in the footsteps of the 2010–2014 airline rankings, this study ranks U.S. domestic air carriers by their overall fuel efficiency for the years 2015 and 2016. The analysis continues the use of the frontier model, which fairly compares different air carriers regardless of business model using air carrier reported BTS data.
Alaska Airlines continued to be the most fuel-efficient domestic carrier for the seventh year running. Frontier and Spirit were in second place in 2016 and 2015, respectively. Meanwhile, Virgin America was the least efficient carrier in both years. The fuel-efficiency gap between the most-efficient and least-efficient airlines increased slightly from 25% in 2014 to 26% in 2016. Rapid growth in RPMs outstripped fuel efficiency improvements, causing overall fuel use and CO2 emissions to jump. From 2014 to 2016, domestic RPMs increased 10%, fleetwide efficiency improved by 3%, and fuel use increased by 7%.
Since the fuel price peak in 2012, the average profit margin for domestic carriers has increased nearly sixfold, from 3% in 2012 to 17% in 2016, due to lower fuel prices and higher ancillary fees. Of the estimated $17 billion in fuel savings, 20% were devoted to lower fares for travelers.
The full paper can be downloaded here.