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Boeing 777 freighter

Building a flight plan to more sustainable aviation

Fueled by global e-commerce, the demand for express shipping and air freight is at an all-time high. How can we respond to this trend while meeting our sustainability goals? The answer is by continuing to build the most efficient fleet available – both in the air and on the ground – and piloting the industry toward more sustainable aviation.

The impact of aviation

The airline industry may have seen record lows in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, but forecasts expect the market to return in time. That means air travel and transportation will continue to have a huge impact on the planet. Before COVID-19, aviation was one of the fastest-growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has warned that by 2050 international aviation emissions could triple compared with 2015. Globally, aviation produces over 2% of total carbon emissions. That may not seem like much, but if global aviation were a country, it would be one of the top 10 emitters.

Making aviation more sustainable starts with state-of-the-art technology

Fueled by globalization and digital technology, DHL Express has seen a continuous  increase in cross-border, time-sensitive shipments. In the fourth quarter of 2020 alone, our global e-commerce volume grew by more than 40%. E-commerce is proving to be an enduring megatrend.

That’s why we’re investing in a future that can handle higher volumes while generating lower emissions. We have accelerated our roadmap to decarbonization with plans to increase our use of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) to more than 30% and electrify 60% of our last-mile delivery vehicles by 2030. But while we plan ahead for the long-term, we are taking action right now to modernize our long-haul intercontinental fleet with state-of-the-art technology. By replacing older Boeing 747-400s with modern Boeing 777 Freighters, we ensure our operations include the most efficient and environmentally-friendly aircraft in its class. After taking delivery of the first ten new B777Fs from an order of 14 aircraft made in 2018, we recently purchased eight additional planes with the option to buy four more.



9,200 km


102,010 kg

MAX. PAYLOAD OF B777F (224,900 LBS)


For more than a decade, we have taken advantage of the B777F’s world-class range and efficiency to deliver more sustainable logistics services. It‘s the world’s largest, longest range, and most capable twin-engine freighter. The B777F can fly up to 9,200 kilometers (4,970 nautical miles) and carry a maximum payload of 102,010 kilograms (224,900 pounds). The aircraft’s fuel-efficient technology reduces carbon emissions by 18% compared to the legacy B747-400s. DHL Express uses these state-of-the-art planes to transport more cargo on each flight, make fewer stops, and reduce our carbon emissions.

Boeing's 2020 World Air Cargo Forecast anticipates a significant increase in demand for new and converted freighters with a fleet growth of more than 60% over the next 20 years. This reflects the growing demand for cross-border, time-definite shipments DHL Express is experiencing. With more than 280 dedicated aircraft, upgrading our fleet underlines our long-term commitment to sustainable logistics while remaining an enabler of global trade as we pilot our way toward zero-emissions logistics by 2050.

Time lapse video of the final assembly of DHL's first Boeing 777 freighter.

Sustainable logistics requires “perfect flight” planning

DHL Express Airbus A330-200F at the DHL Leipzig Hub.

While the aerospace industry works to design fuel-efficient aircraft and develop sustainable aviation fuel, we are taking action right now to identify ways to fly more efficiently. By utilizing the latest technology, optimizing our network, and choosing efficient carriers, we can save jet fuel and reduce carbon emissions.

In July 2020, for example, we partnered with our operating airline, European Air Transport GmbH, to plan the “perfect flight.” This ground-breaking demonstration flight from Leipzig, Germany, to New York City tested the effects of operating under optimal flight conditions. With air traffic down due to Covid-19, we planned and scheduled the most eco-friendly North Atlantic crossing possible, with all air traffic control units along the route supporting our efforts.

To prepare for the flight, we identified more than 50 steps to minimize fuel consumption. These included washing the engine pre-flight to improve aerodynamics, optimizing the route using a state-of-the-art flight planning system, calculating the optimal take-off trajectory (unrestricted climb to cruising altitude), and determining the best possible descent procedure to New York‘s John F. Kennedy International Airport (constant angle with minimum engine power). A total of 13 agencies, such as the German Air Traffic Control (DFS), National Air Traffic Services, UK (NATS), and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), took part in the flight planning and operation.

The results speak for themselves. Loaded with its standard payload (approx. 60 tons of freight), the plane consumed 1,000 kilograms less fuel, which reduced the flight’s CO2 emissions by 3,150 kilograms. NATS reported that the flight through UK airspace scored 0.013 on its 3Di index, which they use to calculate each flight’s environmental efficiency. With zero being perfect, that’s about as close as you can get.

Going green on the ground

DHL Express warehouse at the Cologne-Bonn Airport.

The environmental impact of air logistics doesn’t stop when the plane touches down on the runway. Ground operations play a significant role. Our sustainability roadmap includes plans to use electric and hydrogen technology to drive down emissions in ground operations at our major hubs as well as design all new buildings carbon neutral. 

Our state-of-the-art, green logistics center at the Cologne-Bonn Airport near our corporate headquarters in Germany is a great example of how we are going green on the ground. The new 15,000 m² hub features cutting-edge sorting technology and an innovative system to heat and cool the warehouse (12,000 m²) and offices (3,000 m²). In cooperation with Cologne-Bonn Airport, DHL Express uses a huge ice-energy-storage solution with over 1.3 million liters holding capacity and 18 kilometers of piping. The system ensures the hub stays cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Combined with a heat pump and rooftop solar panels, the solution is entirely emissions-free.

Our largest and greenest logistics center is in the Netherlands. The parcel sorting center covers 30,000 m² and processes up to half a million packages each day. With 11,000 solar panels, geothermal energy, rainwater use, and a 4,000 m² ecological garden, the facility’s carbon footprint is kept to a minimum. The center’s contribution to sustainable logistics won a BREEAM Excellent rating for sustainable buildings.

New sustainability roadmap

Deutsche Post DHL Group's new sustainability roadmap defines ambitious sustainability targets.

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Sustainable fuels for logistics

Drop-in fuels can help significantly reduce emission.

A sustainable economy is unthinkable without sustainable logistics, and sustainable logistics is unthinkable without sustainable fuels. If we are to pilot the industry towards more sustainable aviation, all stakeholders need to come together to develop clean fuel alternatives – and that includes sustainable aviation fuels (SAF).

In our new sustainability roadmap, we have committed to increasing our use of SAF to 30% or more by 2030. We’ll do that by building strategic partnerships with SAF produces, working with carriers that use SAF, and offering customers innovative low carbon solutions to reduce their air freight footprint. We will also support innovative technologies like the development of electric planes and power-to-liquid SAF plants

As part of our mission to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, we have been accelerating the transition from fossil fuels to clean fuels. Sustainable fuels will play a critical role in reducing the impact of transport on the climate. For example, we see mass-market potential for synthetic fuels within the next decade. Using sustainable fuels and other low carbon technology, we are going to offer decarbonized alternatives for all our core products. We’re also expanding our digital carbon reporting capabilities so that customers have the data they need to reduce emissions at every link in the logistics value chain and achieve their sustainability targets.

Our study “Sustainable Fuels for Logistics,” found that some alternative fuels available today, such as drop-in fuels, can already help significantly reduce emissions with minor or no modifications to engines and infrastructures. Until the transport industry reaches the point where it can become fully electric, we will need other solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Sustainable fuels can provide the answer we need to lower emissions as we develop green electricity and slowly bridge that gap.

Published: March 2021

Green Logistics

Good for the environment, good for business

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