Air travel using traditional jet fuel is costly to the environment.
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) says it is “one of the fastest-growing sources of the greenhouse gas emissions driving global climate change.”
The options are few and will take quite a few years to develop into commercially viable options.
Hydrogen and electric planes are still in the blueprint phase with only scattered global trials ensuring they stay safely airborne. Even when they arrive, these planes will operate on a short leash, likely locally.
Then you have a more promising fuel called Sustainable Aviation Fuel or SAF, which actually helps reduce waste here on earth.
If scaled quickly, SAF could help carriers deal with emissions-related restrictions on flying.
Great idea, but at 3-4 times the cost of kerosene, airlines’ current fuel of choice, and a long way from home.
Yet, nothing is stopping UAE national carriers from going green.
Is SAF the answer?
According to Bloomberg Green, SAF is derived from waste oils, fats, sugar crops, and some trees and grasses.
Some airlines are already adopting it. British Airways operated a carbon-neutral flight to Glasgow, while British low-cost airline EasyJet Plc said it will use a SAF blend on 42 flights out of London.
Chicago-based United Airlines Holdings pledged to invest in 1.5 billion gallons of SAF made from forest and crop waste.
The right mix in a SAF will undoubtedly cut CO₂ emissions. The wrong blend, like using plastic-rich municipal waste could make it worse on the climate.
Being so expensive, SAF supplies are not produced in bulk with current production estimated at around 0.1% of global jet fuel consumption, according to Bloomberg.
Growth for SAF is projected at nearly 3% of demand in 2030.
IATA’s Director General Willie Walsh was quoted as expecting airlines to continue buying conventional jetliners for another 15 years, and who have a 20-year lifespan or more.
“We used about 100 million liters of sustainable aviation fuel in 2021 — that’s a very small amount compared to the total fuel required for the industry,” he told CNBC.
Walsh did say airlines had ordered 14 billion liters of SAF in 2021.
IATA expects SAF production to reach 7.9 billion liters by 2025, which would meet just 2% of the overall fuel requirement, and by 20250 to 449 billion liters, or 65% of the sector’s current needs.
Emirates Airlines and SAF flights
Emirates Airlines and GE Aviation agreed to oversee and develop a program that will see an Emirates Boeing 777-300ER conduct a test flight using 100% SAF by the end of 2022.
The test flight would demonstrate how widebody commercial aircraft using alternative jet fuel sources could lower lifecycle CO2 emissions without operational hiccups.
Adel Al Redha, Chief Operating Officer, Emirates Airline, said: “Emirates is committed to supporting initiatives that help minimize its CO2 emissions, and we’ve already made great strides in fuel efficiency and conservation as well as operational advancements across different areas of our business.”
Emirates Airlines’ first SAF flight took place in 2017, operating from the Chicago O’Hare airport.
Emirates received its first A380 powered by SAF in December 2020.
The airline is additionally a member of the World Economic Forum Clean Skies for Tomorrow coalition, supporting pathways towards carbon-neutral flying.
Etihad Airways’ sustainability efforts
Etihad Airways recently completed IATA’s stage 2 Environmental Assessment (IEnvA), and acquired accreditation in facilities management, flight operations, Etihad technical division, and Etihad Catering Services.
The IEnvA is a roadmap for airlines to achieve sustainability in both air and ground operations, and stage 2 represents the highest level of compliance.
Etihad is committed to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and halving its 2019 emission levels by 2035.
The company recorded its first ecoFlight from Abu Dhabi to Brisbane in 2019 and recently launched its sustainability-focused loyalty program, Conscious Choices. The program rewards with Tier Miles and other prizes when travelers make eco-friendly choices in flight or in their everyday lives.
The full program and benefits went live in January 2022.
Over the last two years, Etihad had also announced adopting thousands of mangroves, using sustainable fuels, flying optimized flight paths, and operating EVs.
At a recent Dubai Airshow, Etihad expanded its strategic sustainability program to unite industry leaders such as Boeing, Airbus, GE, and Rolls-Royce in a comprehensive, cross-organizational aviation sustainability initiative.
Etihad managed to offset the emissions of its signature Greenliner aircraft for the entire year, the equivalent of approximately 80,000 tons of CO2 emissions.
Going the extra mile on sustainability, Etihad is now rewarding guest members using the Talabat app in the UAE, through the Miles on the Go program.
The original agreement signed in September 2021 allows Etihad Guest members to earn and redeem miles when ordering food, groceries, and other essentials on the talabat platform in the UAE.
The project will offset each ride made by a talabat rider through the Miles on the Go program. These offsets will be invested in the Sichuan Household Biogas Program, helping Chinese farmers recycle farm waste into clean energy.
Members can earn one mile for every AED 3 spent on the talabat platform.