Etihad Airways carries out flight tests to cut carbon emissions amid green push

The week-long programme coincides with Earth Day and involves testing operational efficiency and technology

The airline is conducting a study on flights to test operational efficiency, technology and procedures designed to reduce carbon emissions. Photo: Etihad
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Etihad Airways is undertaking a week of intensive research and testing on more than 30 flights to reduce carbon emissions, as part of its sustainable flight testing efforts.

The week-long programme, which coincides with Earth Day on April 22, will test operational efficiencies, technology and procedures on more than 20 commercial flights across Etihad’s network, the airline said.

The programme will test contrail avoidance technologies in partnership with Satavia, a UK-based green aerospace company. Aircraft contrails is the condensation trails produced by the exhaust from jet engines that heighten the effect of global warming. Contrails cause up to 60 per cent of aviation’s total climate impact, equivalent to 2 per cent of all human impact.

The Abu Dhabi-based airline will also operate up to 13 dedicated EcoFlights, testing a range of flight and engine optimisation initiatives, with successful trials to be incorporated into regular scheduled operations.

Each of these test flights will be operated on Etihad’s fleet of Airbus A350 and Boeing 787 aircraft, spearheaded by the Etihad Greenliner and its newest A350 jet dubbed the Sustainable 50.

"The tests we’re conducting this week are just the latest initiatives in our long running and comprehensive sustainability programme, because for us, sustainability is a priority every day, not just once a year when it’s convenient and expected," Tony Douglas, group chief executive of Etihad Aviation Group, said.

"The results we develop will add to the body of work and knowledge base we’ve built to support the aviation industry on its journey to decarbonisation."

Etihad Airways is using its new A350 passenger jet as part of a programme aimed at decarbonising aviation. It will operate as a test bed for new initiatives, similar to Etihad's Greenliner programme with Boeing, which uses the 787 Dreamliner aircraft.

Since 2019, when the Greenliner programme began, Etihad and Boeing have operated several flights aboard the 787 Dreamliner jet focusing on plastic-free in-flight products, optimised airspace management, flight deck tools for more eco-friendly take-offs, noise reduction and the use of sustainable aviation fuel.

Last year, airlines pledged net-zero carbon emissions from their operations by 2050, bringing the air transport industry in line with the objectives of the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Airlines are facing pressure from environmental groups to lower their carbon footprint and build back greener operations after the Covid-19 pandemic.

Almost two years before the Iata pledge, Etihad Airways had already committed to a target of zero net carbon emissions by 2050 and halving of its 2019 net emission levels by 2035.

Most of the tests Etihad will conduct during the week-long programme are part of a year-long partnership with Satavia to enable contrail prevention, integrating atmospheric modelling with operational flight planning to prevent contrail formation.

“Our understanding of contrails rests on decades of atmospheric science, which can now be combined with high-performance computer modelling to identify contrail formation zones and optimise flight plans for contrail prevention," Adam Durant, chief executive of Satavia, said.

"Following these tests, we will work with Etihad to quantify the climate benefit arising from contrail prevention on a flight-by-flight basis. This will lay the groundwork for future conversion into tradable carbon credits incentivising widespread adoption of contrail prevention across the aviation sector.”

In contrast to many green aerospace initiatives, contrail prevention is a software solution that can be executed in the near-term through technical integration with flight operations, the airline said.

“By working with Satavia to implement contrail prevention in day-to-day activity, Etihad is taking the lead on an important issue facing the entire industry,” Mr Douglas said. “We have to think about aviation’s indirect, non-CO2 effects as well as direct climate impacts, and contrail prevention is the key to making swift progress in this field.”

In addition to contrail avoidance R&D flight tests, Etihad will operate up to 13 EcoFlights, following six previous sustainability focused operations since 2019. That includes the EY20 sustainable flight from London to Abu Dhabi in October 2021, which reduced carbon emissions by 72 per cent compared to a similar flight in 2019.

These flights will further test and trial operational initiatives to evaluate and confirm learnings from past EcoFlights for flight path optimisation, including optimised climb and continuous descent, optimal departure runway, last minute engine start-up, single-engine taxi procedures network wide, and fight deck technology solutions.

In parallel to the research and testing flights, Etihad is also publishing its first sustainability report on Earth Day 2022, on Friday, documenting the past two years of its sustainability efforts.

Updated: April 22, 2022, 3:24 PM