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Flight Carbon Footprint Calculator

Created by Miłosz Panfil, PhD
Reviewed by Bogna Szyk and Steven Wooding
Last updated: Jun 05, 2023


The flight emissions calculator computes the amount of the CO₂ emitted into the atmosphere during a flight. The calculations are based on the flight duration and apply both to domestic and inter-continental flights.

The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimated the maximal annual amount of CO₂ that, on average, each of us can contribute and yet keep global warming under reasonable control. The calculator compares the amount of CO₂ emitted during a flight to that estimate, the flight's carbon footprint.

Flying takes a lot of energy. A medium-sized airplane like Airbus A320, on its regular passenger route, burns around 300 liters of fuel per 100 km. Once divided by the number of passengers, it's 150 if the load is full, the fuel consumption goes down to a small value of 2 liters per 100 km per passenger. That's like a car; you can check it with our miles per gallon calculator.

However, the distances covered by flying are much, much longer. One trip from the U.S. to Europe and back (say Orlando to Milan) is almost 8000 kilometers. Include the journey back, and you covered a distance that would take a few months of daily home-work travel to cover.

Flight CO₂ emission formula

As much as the planes are efficient, the distances traveled are large, so the emissions of CO₂ are large as well. It's estimated that from 1 kg of fuel, there is more than 3 kg CO₂ emitted. To compute the emissions, we take into account the following factors:

  • Amount of CO₂ emitted per one hour of flight per one passenger. We assume, based on the analysis of carbonindependent.org, that it is equal to 90 kg/hour per passenger.

  • Seat occupancy: the previous value assumes that the airplane is full. This is rarely the case. Worldwide, on average, the seat occupancy on a regular passenger flight is around 80%. That's the value we take. You can modify it in the advanced mode of the flight emissions calculator.

  • Duration of a flight: having emissions per hour, we need the duration of the trip to compute the emission along the whole journey.

  • Radiative forcing factor: finally, the emission takes place high in the atmosphere, and that's precisely where we don't want the CO₂ to be because of its greenhouse effect. To account for that, we include a radiative forcing factor. We take its value to be 2, based again on the analysis from carbonindependent.org.

The final formula is:

Emitted CO2 = Duration_of_flight × Emission_per_hour_per_passenger × Radiative_forcing / Seat_occupancy

If you fly there and back, you have to double the emission. We can do it for you. Just change the Flight option from One-way to Return.

Flight carbon footprint

Choose your holiday destination, and you generate many tonnes of CO₂. What does it mean? To put this number into context, let's get back to the beginning.

Why do we care about CO₂ emissions? Because of global warming. CO₂ is a greenhouse gas meaning that once it is high in the atmosphere, it works like a ceiling of the greenhouse: it lets the heat in but does not let it out.

The IPCC estimated that to keep global warming under some control, the increase of the average temperature by 2 degrees in the year 2050, emissions per every person on the earth must stay below 2500 kg of CO₂ annually.

Our daily choices impact the environment and us: our Kaya identity calculator can help you quantify that impact. If you wonder whether to travel by car or bike, the car vs. bike calculator might help you make up your mind. More of a flying fan? With our flight radiation calculator, you can check how much radiation the sky traveling gives you.

Miłosz Panfil, PhD
Duration of a flight
hrs
Flight
One-way
CO₂ emissions
kg
Yearly allowance
%
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