MIAMI — Philippe Lacamp was appointed as Senior Vice-President, Americas for Cathay Pacific in August 2015. He oversees all facets of Cathay Pacific’s operations and commercial activities in the Americas.
Mr. Lacamp joined the Swire Group (owner of Cathay Pacific) in 1992 and has held a wide range of positions within the group. Prior to his current role, he was Head of Sustainable Development for Swire Pacific and John Swire & Sons, covering a range of industries including aviation, shipping and marine services, property development, beverages, and agri-business.
Mr. Lacamp sat down with Airways to discuss several programs Cathay Pacific has initiated to become a more sustainable and green company.
AW: What has motivated Cathay to appoint a Chief Environmental Officer and take such a lead in Green aviation?
LACAMP: This [position has] been in existence since 2008 and we’ve always had a team of people working in the environmental areas since the 1990s at least, as far as I’m aware. There’s an increasing demand from our different consecutive groups and increasing and more complex regulatory regimes around the world.
There were different initial trading schemes that came into being since… over the last ten years around the world and the international agreement that struck back in October for International Aviation. All this came together. We’ve always had this philosophy of doing the right thing for the business, for our stakeholders, and for the longer term. Sustainability obviously is about being around for the long term.
Our point now is that we feel that certainly in America, environmental issues (as they relate to air travel) are beginning to resonate. We would like people to be holding airlines to a higher standard because actually, that’s the higher benchmark that we hold ourselves to.
AW: What’s interesting is that obviously, you’re a Hong Kong-based carrier. Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland have notorious bouts with pollution. How do you interact with the government and the authorities to reach these goals?
LACAMP: Yeah, absolutely. We work very closely with, for example, the Hong Kong Airport Authority. Obviously, we work on a lot of local issues including waste, food waste and collecting all these donations to local food banks and improving our energy efficiency with our vehicle fleets on the ramp.
We also work very closely with the Hong Kong government in terms of sharing with them what our plans are. For example, what we’ve been doing on the biofuel front and how that technology could potentially benefit Hong Kong. Right now with our investment in the Fulcrum BioEnergy, based here in California, that’s turning municipal solid waste into bio-jet fuel. In Hong Kong, our landfills are filling up and in recent years people here are worried that we will end up with no place to put our waste. That’s one thing that got people really interested so we’re working together and exploring opportunities and see how this can be brought into the region with this kind of technology.
AW: Let’s delve into Fulcrom BioEnergy and the role it plays in this program.
LACAMP: Yeah, they are the technology developer and they see that the technology is proven. That’s why we’ve invested in it. Now the next step is really to scale it up to an industry level so that there’s enough supply. Right now the agreement is to have 375 million gallons for us. That’s it… that’s the agreement. In time we will see if that can be scaled up into further.
AW: What percentage of that would be your overall fuel demands? If there’s some kind of context you put behind that?
LACAMP: We are just exploring the different technologies and the diversity and all those aspects of these different feedstocks. It’s not a huge… it’s quite a small proportion right now but we can see that it will become increasingly available in larger proportions in time.
AW: Describe your bio-fuel powered operations thus far.
LACAMP: So far we have been using 10% biofuel for every one of our Airbus A350 delivery flights from Toulouse to Hong Kong. These have been the longest biofuel blend flights in the world to date. We will continue this program for all 40 or so of our confirmed deliveries.
We have a dedicated manager for biofuel. We were actually one of the first airlines to join the sustainable alternative fuel users group, back in 2008. Basically, these organizations look at the sustainability criteria of biofuels ensuring that whatever feedstock is being used does not compete for land with food resources and does not destroy habitat.
AW: You’re saying by 2019 or 2018, you believe you’ll actually be using this fuel on actual commercial flights, revenue generating flights?
LACAMP: The aircraft that are being delivered actually still have biofuel in their tank and have been operating around the region in any way. What we’re really doing is just proving it out. There are plenty of airlines that have done it, but in many cases, it’s been more of a ‘one and done’ approach to biofuels. We’re trying to get to long-term, sustainable, commercially viable use of our fuels. This is one of those things for which there needs to be a leader. We are clearly prepared to be at the leading edge of this. Once of course it becomes competitively priced, then clearly there’s going to be a number of airlines that could jump in and start using it because you get carbon reductions that are very significant for the industry to make the 2020 Carbon Neutral Growth target.
AW: It makes sense. Let’s discuss how you’ve opted to retire, part out, and focus on the recycling of the thirsty A340 fleet.
LACAMP: This was actually initiated by the team that looks after the aircraft in Thailand. This is a very systematic system where more than 90% of the aircraft can be reused and recycled. Every part is taken out and recorded and noted with the trail of where this part has been used and how many times it has been used so that the value of that part can be retained. Either it can be sold on or used for maintenance or just to ensure that it goes back into the life cycle and of course recycle.
AW: Let’s turn to the environmental impact of re-fleeting with A350s as the 747s and A340s have been retired.
LACAMP: The A350 is already 25% more fuel efficient than the previous generation of aircraft. It’s made out of composite material so it’s a lot lighter, more fuel efficient, and more environmentally friendly with regards to emissions. But what makes our aircraft even more special are the new blankets and the carpets that we’re putting in are all made from recycled plastic materials. It’s also the way we source the materials of our products and that extends to all of our new aircraft.
For example, our new carpets are made not just from older carpets. They’re also made from discarded fishing nets that have been taken out of the ocean. These nets if they remain in the ocean actually endanger marine life. A lot of fish, turtles, and other marine life have been found caught in these nets.
AW: Where are these ideas developed? Are they sourced from Cathay, the OEM’s, or your suppliers?
LACAMP: That’s a very good question. When we go to our suppliers we always raise the question, what are the alternative materials out there? What are the innovative solutions that are out there? Because a lot of the time, it’s the suppliers who know what’s new in the market, what is available in the market. We don’t necessarily know all of these new technologies. For example, with the premium economy class amenity kit bags are actually made from recycled plastic bottles but from the quality and the design, you wouldn’t be able to tell that it’s made from waste per se.
It was actually the supplier who suggested the idea to us. We always ask that questions to our suppliers and we always challenge them to make them help us do better and be able to fit our standards and requirements as well.
AW: What are your marketing and branding efforts around Fly Greener
LACAMP: We don’t usually do a lot of promotion on the aircraft. I think 2013 we did put decals on aircraft specially fitted with a climate change monitor that acknowledges the pollutant in the atmosphere while inflight. That data feeds right back into a database.
Generally, we try to raise passenger awareness by printing articles in our in-flight magazines and in-flight videos. Back in 2007, we were the first Asian airline to offer carbon credits. We consider moves like these to be about value added service.
AW: How do you ask your customers to participate in Fly Greener?
LACAMP: We are looking into potential initiatives but as a premium airline we won’t actively ask our passengers to help separate or dispose of waste, but if passengers want to do that they are welcome to and we will help them. In flight we have a program called Change for Good which is in conjunction with UNICEF. Any spare foreign currency that we’ve collected from passengers’ donations will be given to UNICEF to further their work to help kids in developing countries. Our crew actually visits some UNICEF projects every year, at least once or twice to see the fruits of their efforts in helping collect these donations. The crew does not just give out these envelopes, they are actually able to speak to the customers about what this project is about and where the money goes and how it will help kids. This can facilitate conversation between our crew and our passengers as well.
AW: What are long-term and short-term goals with Fly Greener?
LACAMP: You’re maybe aware that the industry has set a short term goal of 1.5 % increased fuel efficiency per year until 2020. When we reviewed our own operation actually we set a higher goal of 2%. We’re at 1.8% now.
AW: How does being green affect the bottom line?
LACAMP: From the year 1998 up to 2016, our fuel efficiency improvement for R2K had actually been 25.5 %.
AW: Is there even a dollar amount that you guys put against some of this conservation effort or anything such as like that?
LACAMP: We haven’t actually put together one figure but we know that for a different initiative, to give you an example, where we just use one engine to taxi back to the gate, we save about 150-180 kilograms fuel per flight basis.
Cover Photo: Brandon Farris