Fly the Eco Skies

Costa Rica's Nature Air gets an emissions-free face-lift

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

BREAKFAST IN BOLIVIA, dinner in Manhattan—such is the velocity of airplane travel. Ask climatologists and they'll tell you that this small-world phenomenon comes with a hefty price tag in the form of greenhouse-gas emissions. Governments worldwide are now grappling with ways to compel airlines to shoulder the burden of ozone depletion, weighing options like ticket surcharges, “green taxes,” and CO2 credits. But while the major airlines remain in a holding pattern on the issue, Nature Air, a tiny company in Costa Rica, is taking action.

“We are the world's first and only zero-emissions airline,” says Nature Air spokes-man Alexi Huntley, who, along with his father, brother, and a group of investors, has turned a fleet of six DeHavilland Twin Otter planes and two twin-engine Britten Norman Islanders into a Central American shuttle system. The small airline makes 74 daily flights to 17 adventure travel destinations in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Panama.

So how does an airplane dial its CO2 output back to zero? Nature Air first uses its yearly fuel consumption to calculate emissions—some 4,650 tons in 2004. Then, working with the Costa Rican government, it assigns that number a monetary value. Last December, when the company started the project, Nature Air offset its 2004 emissions with a $12,322 investment in reforestation and habitat-protection projects on the Osa Peninsula, one of Central America's most biologically diverse rainforests.

In addition to its eco-entrepreneurialism, Nature Air also offers unlimited travel passes that allow passengers to zip between active volcanoes and world-class surf spots. With average yearly growth around 25 percent, it seems the company may have a thing or two to teach the big leagues. “We came at this thing from more of an environmental standpoint,” says Huntley, “but we found there's a direct correlation between corporate responsibility and the bottom line.” Two-week unlimited pass, $349; 800-235-9272,