Etihad Airways' sustainability initiatives cut carbon emissions by 56%

Steps taken to address sustainability challenges need to be bold and decisive, chief executive Tony Douglas says

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Abu Dhabi's Etihad Airways slashed its carbon emissions by 56 per cent between 2018 and 2021 as it successfully implemented programmes aimed at establishing a more sustainable business model.

The airline's carbon footprint was at 4,310,592 tonnes last year compared with 9,828,970 tonnes three years earlier, according the company's Sustainability Report 2020-2021 released on Friday.

The airline said the reduction in emissions was due in part to reduced operations as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. But it highlighted the success of its sustainable initiatives, including the Boeing Greenliner and the Airbus A350, which is being called the Sustainable50.

On an annual basis from 2018, Etihad's carbon emissions decreased by about 7 per cent in 2019 and 53 per cent in 2020. It rose marginally – 1 per cent – in 2021, as the airline's operations normalised after pandemic restrictions began to ease.

The steps being taken to address sustainability challenges need to be "bold" and "decisive", said Tony Douglas, group chief executive of Etihad Aviation Group.

"There is no other way forward. That is why we have been insistent that we continue to focus on the question as a long-term strategic priority for our business," he said.

Similar to the car industry, the aviation sector is considering hybrid, electric or hydrogen aircraft technologies to promote and achieve sustainable business models. But while these up-and-coming modes of air transport are still awaited, the industry is looking at alternatives to achieve more sustainable operations today.

European plane maker Airbus last month flew the first A380 powered by 100 per cent sustainable aviation fuel, which the industry sees as a way of making flying more environmentally friendly before the introduction of hybrid, electric or hydrogen aircraft.

Airlines are also facing pressure from environmental groups to lower their carbon footprint and build back greener operations after the pandemic.

At the International Air Transport Association's annual general meeting last October, 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.

Etihad had already committed to its carbon emission reduction goals almost two years before the Iata pledge.

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Etihad's all new business class cabin on the new A350-1000. Photo: Etihad

The airline's Greenliner programme started in 2019 and Etihad and US industry majors Boeing and General Electric have operated several flights on 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.

Etihad said it is "well on its way" to fulfilling its pledge to reduce single-use plastics by 80 per cent by this year. The airline is using its sustainable flights to measure the impact and make long-term changes to its operations.

The Sustainable50 is an Airbus A350-1000 jet that is expected to enter service this quarter, Etihad said.

The lightweight carbon-fibre aircraft from the manufacturer has an all-new design. Mr Douglas last month described it as a "world-beating product".

There is no other way forward. That is why we have been insistent that we continue to focus on the question as a long-term strategic priority for our business
Tony Douglas, group chief executive of Etihad Aviation Group

"We’re working with industry leaders to guarantee we keep pushing the boundaries of what is possible," Etihad said on its website.

Etihad's report set out a "clear and ambitious" path forward, and the airline's programmes are set in a co-ordinated manner in a bid to achieve 20 per cent and 50 per cent reductions in emissions by 2025 and 2035, respectively – and a goal of ultimately reaching net zero by 2050.

During the 2020-2021 period, Etihad also launched the world’s most comprehensive industry-wide testing and innovation programme, and became the first airline to secure commercial financing based on verified compliance with the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN.

It was also able to secure $1.2 billion in the first sustainability linked loan tied to environmental, social and governance targets in global aviation, as well as launch the first aircraft carbon offset programme in the Middle East.

Etihad is also backing the UAE's participation in the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation, an initiative from the International Civil Aviation Organisation that aims to stabilise international civil aviation net carbon emissions.

On Friday, Etihad started a week-long research and testing programme on more than 30 flights to reduce carbon emissions. The programme, which coincided with Earth Day, will test operational efficiencies, technology and procedures on more than 20 commercial flights across Etihad’s network, the airline said.

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