Delta Air Lines unveiled a plan that it says will help offset carbon emissions associated with air travel.

From June 1, the US major will give customers purchasing tickets at its web site the option to contribute a donation to environmental non-profit organization the Conservation Fund.

The donations will be used to plant trees throughout the USA and abroad. A small portion will also support the organization’s education and outreach efforts.

To kick off the program, the airline says it will make its own donation to the Conservation Fund for every customer taking a Delta mainline or Delta Shuttle flight on Earth Day, which falls on April 22. It is also pledging to plant a tree for each of its 47,000 employees.

“Many of Delta’s customers and employees worldwide are passionate about and committed to social responsibility with environmental stewardship as an important area where they can make a difference,” says Delta chief operating officer Jim Whitehurst in a statement.

“In support of that, we are pleased to become the first and only US carrier to offer a program that allows customers to help promote positive global environmental change through carbon offsets.”

Adds Conservation Fund president Larry Selzer: “We applaud Delta’s leadership for its commitment to help offset the carbon footprint of its travelers on Earth Day.”

Climate change has emerged as one of the dominant environmental issues of today. The newly planted forests will help to absorb carbon dioxide, filter water, restore wildlife habitat and enhance public recreation areas, says Delta.

The carrier’s plan comes a few weeks after Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific Airways revealed it is establishing a carbon emissions offset program for its employees travelling on business and for its airline customers. Monies generated from the scheme will be invested in environmental projects in the Pearl River Delta region, neighbouring Hong Kong.

Also, Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group last year announced a major initiative to explore alternative energy sources. Launched in September 2006, Virgin Fuels plans to invest up to $400 million over three years in renewable energy initiatives.

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