ABU DHABI: Etihad Airways, the national carrier of the United Arab Emirates, has operated its first ecoFlight for 2021, continuing research and testing under the Etihad Greenliner programme to assess environmental sustainability initiatives during scheduled services. This is Etihad’s fourth ecoFlight, operated on the airline’s signature Greenliner aircraft which is fully offset for all operations through 2021 as part of the airline’s mission toward carbon neutral flying.
The maiden 2021 ecoFlight, EY83, departed Abu Dhabi for Rome on April 17, testing a range of flight and engine optimisation initiatives, as well as onboard product enhancements to reduce weight and single-use plastics, with successful trials to be incorporated into regular scheduled operations.
On board, the trial focused on three key pillars: sustainable products, incorporating initiatives identified on past ecoFlights to reduce single-use plastics, and an overall weight reduction study. Etihad also tested initiatives to mitigate the challenges imposed by Covid-19, driving home the Etihad Greenliner Programme mission to identify challenges and call upon the industry to work together for meaningful solutions that ensure safety, environmental and fiscal inclusivity.
Tony Douglas, Group Chief Executive Officer, Etihad Aviation Group, said: “Etihad made a significant and tangible commitment to sustainability and the future of aviation over a year ago, first when we launched the Greenliner programme in partnership with Boeing, GE and other aviation leaders, then with our commitment to achieving net zero emissions by 2050 and halving our net emission levels by 2035.
‘Since then, and throughout the pandemic we have remained on track, with a number of ecoFlights during 2020, as well as partnering with Boeing, NASA and Safran on the 2020 ecoDemonstrator programme. Now in 2021 we are stepping up our efforts so eco testing won’t be confined to quarterly dedicated ecoFlights, but instead an always on, ever present part of operations to test, refine and implement sustainability initiatives. This kind of incremental, real world testing is the foundation of the Greenliner programme, which will allow us to continue R&D efforts into decarbonization opportunities.
“This isn’t about solving only Etihad’s emissions, but about supporting the entire industry to address the biggest challenge we face over the next three decades.”
Sustainable Products, Weight Reduction and Cabin Waste
The Rome ecoFlight saw the removal and replacement of 1,731 single-use plastic items from onboard service, with a weight reduction of 108kg, saving 60kg CO2 emissions. This follows efforts on the first ecoFlight to Brisbane in 2019, where 43 single-use plastic items were removed from onboard operations, resulting in an annual saving of 17 tonnes of waste from landfill and again in 2020, when the airline operated an ecoFlight to Brussels, removing 2,639 single-use plastic items from the flight, equal to approximately 8.8kg in weight reduction.
Feasible initiatives trialed on the latest ecoFlight will be adapted for standard operations moving forward, contributing to Etihad’s goal to remove 80 percent of single-use plastics. Based on circular theory efforts, the airline tackled international waste regulations head on with a recycling initiative to better manage cabin waste. Strict waste regulations force international airlines to incinerate all contaminated materials, and efforts were made to identify suppliers offering products that will not release harmful emissions in incineration, such as EcoWare bagasse pots, which are compostable and made from plants. The flight produced and successfully diverted 8.1kg of recyclable material from landfill.
Boasting a range of sustainable suppliers, the flight focused on avoiding single use items, finding replacements that are locally produced, UAE sourced and meet the requirement of being lightweight and non-energy intensive in the cleaning process or non-impactful in the disposal process.
The ecoFlight showcased Al Ain Water’s sustainable plant-based water bottles onboard. It also featured Abu Dhabi based startup ‘The Concept’s’ sustainable inflight meal trays made from used water bottles, and BambuuBrush, for their highly sustainable up-cycled Bamboo Toothbrush.
Operational initiatives trialed continue to evaluate and confirm learnings from past ecoFlights for flight path optimisation, including optimised climb and continuous descent. A previous ecoFlight to Dublin showed when compared to a standard Boeing 787 flight on that route, the ecoFlight reduced journey time by 40 minutes and reduced CO2 emissions by three tonnes.
Following extensive trialing and collaboration with Air Navigation Authorities globally on previous ecoFlights, flight optimisation has become an Etihad standard operating procedure wherever possible. The ecoFlight saw the airline successfully avoid 1,386kg CO2 through operational efficiencies alone.
The flight also leveraged Boeing’s proprietary Probabilistic Flight Planning tool to optimise routing and fuel efficiency by evaluating possible routes, taking uncertainty in the weather forecast into account to use less fuel, regardless of the actual winds. This technology has the potential to reduce Etihad’s fleet-wide annual CO2 emissions by approximately 2 million kgs. (4.4 million lbs.).
“Flight optimisation is one of the first places we should be looking to for fuel and CO2 savings as an industry. It’s an elegant, simple solution for massive, incremental savings that would fundamentally change the industry and put us on the path to a sustainable future,” said Douglas. “However, simple does not mean easy to implement. It requires cooperation across the industry, and importantly, across borders as a coordinated global response, and that sort of cooperation needs to be led at the regulatory level.”
Adding valuable testing data to operational efficiency initiatives such as potable water optimization favours these trials greatly, with this ecoFlight reducing CO2 emissions by 189kg from this practice alone. The results from the flight will help develop a more efficient method to calculate potable water requirements for future operations, with a potential annual impact of up to 800 tonnes of fuel, or 2,500 tonnes of CO2 saved across the entire fleet.
The ecoFlight follows the recent announcement of Etihad’s partnership with GE Aviation, licensing the airline for the groundbreaking GE 360 foam wash jet engine cleaning system. The system will remove more than 7,000 metric tonnes of CO2 in 2021 from Etihad’s GE90 and GEnx fleets. Impacts are already proving invaluable, with this initiative saving 290kg of CO2 emissions on this flight.
The flight once again leveraged electric tractors, which were successfully trialed on previous ecoFlights and are permanently deployed to service 37% of Etihad and other airline flights at Abu Dhabi airport, with a 309.5 tonne CO2 annual benefit in emissions.
With operations still severely impacted by Covid, Etihad’s commitment to sustainability remained on track, with the airline implementing a number of key sustainability initiatives in 2020:
- Jan 2020: Announcement of 2035 and 2050 net zero emissions targets
- Jan and Feb 2020: First two eco-flights to Brussels and Dublin
- Aug 2020: Partnership with Boeing on the ecoDemonstrator programme, for the first time on a 787-10 aircraft
- Oct 2020: Launch of world’s first Transition Sukuk and first Sustainability-Linked financing in global aviation, raising USD 600 million by linking terms to Etihad’s carbon reduction targets
- Dec 2020: Commitment to purchase carbon offsets to completely neutralise the CO2 emissions of flagship “Greenliner” aircraft throughout 2021
- Feb 2021: Partnership with GE to launch its 360 Foam Wash to remove more than 7,000 metric tonnes of CO2 in 2021 from Etihad’s fleet
Etihad Greenliner Programme
This ecoFlight is the latest effort toward sustainable aviation, flown under the banner of the Etihad Greenliner programme which is the airline’s driving message for sustainability, uniting the technologists and visionaries together in a call to arms.
A key pillar of the programme is the Etihad-Boeing strategic global partnership, spearheaded by a specially-themed Boeing 787 Dreamliner to test products, procedures and initiatives designed to reduce aircraft carbon emissions.
Etihad encourages and invites partners from across the aviation sector to join and test sustainability initiatives on scheduled 787 operations. The results are then processed and validated with Etihad and its partners including Boeing and GE, and the most sustainable initiatives used as a base for improving the performance of the global 787 operating community.
The Etihad Greenliner Programme is an open call to action for collaborative effort to preserve the luxury of air travel, while protecting and mitigating the impact on the environment, proven further with their sustainability tagline: Etihad Airways: From Abu Dhabi for the World.