Etihad Airways is set to operate a net-zero emissions flight from Washington Dulles Airport to Abu Dhabi via Sharm El Sheikh that will carry delegates to Egypt's Cop27 climate change conference as part of the airline's push for sustainable travel.
The Abu Dhabi-based airline is joining up with net-zero services provider World Energy to operate the flight powered entirely by sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) through a book-and-claim system, Etihad Airways said in a statement on Thursday.
This means Etihad will buy — or book — SAF for the flight provided by fuelling partner World Energy. The flight will use conventional Jet-A1 fuel, while the physical SAF that Etihad has purchased will be delivered to the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) fuel system to be used on flights by other airlines, as LAX has the infrastructure to take delivery of and distribute World Energy’s SAF.
Etihad Airways said this will be the first net-zero flight powered entirely by the SAF book and claim system, showing a “feasible path” to net-zero commercial aviation using current technology while underscoring the challenges and opportunities of using SAF.
“This initiative is about proving net-zero commercial aviation is possible, but equally facing up to the significant logistical challenges the industry faces to turn the possible into the routine,” said Mariam Alqubaisi, head of Sustainability and Business Excellence at Etihad Airways.
Etihad Airways has already committed to a target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and halving its 2019 net emission levels by 2035. The UAE has also pledged to reduce its carbon emissions to net zero by the year 2050, earmarking Dh600 billion ($163.37bn) for investments in clean and renewable energy sources over the next three decades.
The airline's net-zero flight will be operated on its Boeing 787 “Greenliner”.'
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.
Etihad Airways is also using its new A350 passenger jet as part of the programme aimed at decarbonising aviation.
“Through these programmes, we have run a series of ecoFlights over the past two years to test and validate several concepts, and we have made refining and implementing sustainability initiatives an intrinsic part of our day-to-day operation,” Ms Alqubaisi said.
The net-zero flight is “the next logical step” after Etihad's flight EY20 from London Heathrow to Abu Dhabi in October last year succeeded in reducing emissions by 72 per cent compared to the same flight in 2019, she said.
“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,” she added.
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 make operations greener after the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Aviation is on an unsustainable trajectory, as it is projected to continue to account for an ever-greater share of global carbon emissions,” said Gene Gebolys, chief executive of World Energy.
“But there is a way off this course. The course correction will come from the fuel tank rather than the cockpit. Together, we can efficiently change the fuel we fly on so we can change the impact of flying.”
Guests on board Etihad's net-zero flight to Cop27 will not be charged any premium for their fare but preparing a net-zero flight without charging a surcharge for each passenger and cargo shipment is a challenge, given that the cost to produce SAF is four times higher than traditional jet fuel, Etihad said.
The extra costs will be mitigated by several sources, including government subsidies reducing the SAF cost by 50 per cent, Etihad's Corporate Conscious Choice programme contributing 28 per cent and the Etihad Guest Raffle providing 22 per cent, it said.
A final 10 per cent to partially offset additional operational and handling costs will be generated by tokenising and trading CO2 avoidance credits, Etihad said.