Innovation rarely comes from within. However, in less than 18 months, 4Air is shaking up how to view private aviation sustainability. It is setting a higher target that comes from taking a more holistic approach to measuring emissions. And it’s attracting support from a broad range of industry companies despite being spawned by a prominent player with brands that often are competing with some of its customers.
Designed to address the bullseye that sits squarely on the back of private jet users, Alisdair Whyte, Editor of Corporate Jet Investor, says, “People are right to be wary about offsetting. It is very easy to buy carbon credits without understanding them, but with 4Air, you know they know exactly what they are doing and are choosing serious projects and calculating the true emissions.”
Emissions go beyond just carbon, explains Kennedy Ricci, President of 4Air and son of industry icon Kenn Ricci, whose Directional Aviation includes fractional and jet card leaders Flexjet and Sentient Jet. Water vapor, aerosols, and nitrous oxides impact the environment and can be harder to measure. For example, contrails reflect the sun during the day, offsetting some of their warming effects. At night, they don’t, amplifying their impact.
“If you really want to be climate neutral, which is the goal, you have to go beyond carbon,” says Ricci. That means tripling CO2 offsets.
4Air’s tiered program with levels that range from Bronze to Platinum enables participants to set a defined target and progress over time. The company acts as a consultant, advisor, and accountant. It identifies and verifies offset projects that clients can access. It helps its partners with due diligence on initiatives tied to their local communities and stakeholders. It goes beyond just the flying, considering facilities and all aspects of their operations impacting climate. It then helps keep and verify the lengthy paper trail that validates the entire offsetting process, “making sure they have the records they need.” It is also taking a leading role in helping promote the use of Sustainable Aviation Fuel, which can reduce carbon emissions by up to 80%.
Whyte notes, “4Air is also not just about offsetting. Their work with SAF and investing in research should pay dividends in the medium and long term.”
Right now, it’s attracting a broad cross-section of industry interest. Its client base has expanded from fractional and charter operators to terminals, known as FBOs, corporate flight departments, and even aircraft owners. Plans call for increasing opportunities for business aviation stakeholders, including pilots.
Jamie Walker, the CEO of Jet Linx, one of the 10 largest operators in North America and whose company competes against Flexjet and Sentient with its own jet card and shared ownership programs, says 4Air’s ties to Directional were a positive.
“Every year, we ground our airplanes for a day and hold a safety summit. We talk about issues and best practices. We invite competitors because it shouldn’t be a competitive landscape when it comes to safety. Sustainability is the same. 4Air is unique in that our industry is unique, and they understand our industry, so in fact, we viewed their industry experience as an advantage to working with them,” he says.
Matt Liotta, CEO of start-up fractional program Volato, adds, “They came with a good and flexible program that gave the right validations, that wouldn’t be dismissed as greenwashing – offering us a solution for a problem that would have been more difficult to solve on our own.”
One executive put it this way: “When you saw that 4Air was being led by Kenn’s son and Nancy Bsales, one of the industry’s top experts in sustainability, you knew it would be serious. It’s a competitive industry, but with their credibility, it is no surprise that it is signing up so many operators.”
Tommy Sowers, President of FlyExclusive, another large operator that sells jet memberships and recently launched a fractional program, says 4Air stood out on its merits. “We really focus on transparency and simplicity. That was a real attraction for 4Air. It was simple and transparent,” he says, adding, “One of our internal values is to be part of a larger cause, particularly here in North Carolina. We know there is a lot of education that has to happen on carbon offsets, and we loved we could target Eastern Carolina forestry, and one day in the not-too-distant future, we will walk through a forest here and say to our team members and customers, ‘This was planted by you.’”
Ricci says he believes there is an opportunity for the industry to use 4Air’s rating system in the same way operators and brokers promote safety via audits from Argus and Wyvern, whose logos can be seen on numerous websites. So far, it has been helping partners educate customers and prospects with blog posts and content for their websites, communications, and collateral.
While Ricci admits there has been some pushback in messaging that just offsetting carbon emissions isn’t enough, he says he’s bullish that the industry is committed to total neutrality and solutions such as SAF. In the meantime, he sees fertile ground.
Whyte, who supports the more holistic approach beyond carbon, says, “It is important that we do not see a race to the bottom with offsetting.” However, he warns that the industry must generate support from end-users. “It only makes sense if companies, owners, or passengers want to do it. Otherwise, it is a waste of time.” A 2020 survey by JetNet of over 500 operators of private aircraft from charter companies to corporate flight departments found less than 1% ranked using sustainable fuel as important to their constituents, compared to 21.5% who were concerned about the cost of flying and 3.3% who cited WiFi availability as a priority.