How Diana Birkett Rakow is taking Alaska Airlines towards net zero via Flyways and more
"The challenge of decarbonizing aviation is complex, so it is fascinating and intellectually stimulating. But it is people that keep me going – especially the people across our company who are constantly coming up with new ideas to make progress." - Diana Birkett Rakow, Senior Vice President, Public Affairs & Sustainability at Alaska Airlines
In April 2022, Alaska Airlines celebrated its 90th anniversary, a remarkable achievement by any measure. However, its eyes are firmly set on navigating the next 90 years, with sustainability set to be a key part of those plans.
It is worth noting that Alaska is one of the few airlines that have committed to reaching net-zero before 2050. In fact, their five-part plan – released in 2021 – outlines how the airline plans to get there as soon as 2040.
That’s not all. They have outlined short-term plans until 2025 as well. These include focusing on improving operational efficiency with procedures and technology that minimise fuel burn. For example, by implementing route optimisation software Flyways; taking delivery of new Boeing 737 MAX aircraft; improving use of electric ground power and air and continuing to evolve the ground fleet toward lower-emissions options. Last but not least, the airline is aggressively investing in developing and procuring SAF.
Meet the Changemaker
Diana Birkett Rakow is Senior Vice President, Public Affairs & Sustainability at Alaska Airlines. She is a senior ESG and public affairs executive and Board Director with over two decades’ experience across multiple industries and private, not-for-profit, and government sectors. Diana’s approach to sustainability is people and process-oriented.
“People keep me motivated and inspired”, she says. “Especially those in the organisation who are improving processes to save fuel or be more efficient, and who reach out with ideas about recycling or waste management."
"Years ago, our flight attendants designed and implemented our onboard recycling programme – and more recently, our dispatchers worked with software developers from Airspace Intelligence to develop new route optimization called Flyways which dispatchers can use to support their development of flight paths that save fuel, time, and emissions.”
The biggest lesson for Diana is the critical need for partnership and collaboration – on all fronts, inside and beyond Alaska Airlines. She says sustainability involves work that cannot live in a silo, and no one organisation has all the answers.
Inside Alaska, this means sharing responsibility for progress with teams and colleagues across the company.
For example, working with the supply chain to navigate the diverse market for SAF; with the food and beverage team to evaluate products to replace single-use plastic; with the airport teams to make the ground vehicle fleet increasingly electric; and more. Starting last year, the airline also added a carbon intensity goal to the employee performance pay programme to embed this drive for sustainability in their culture.