Etihad Airways, the national airline of the United Arab Emirates, will mark the second anniversary of its Greenliner programme with a dedicated sustainable flight from London Heathrow to Abu Dhabi on October 23, showcasing a range of initiatives in the air and on the ground that reduce environmental impact, reports Tony Harrington. Using its signature ‘Etihad Greenliner’ aircraft, a themed Boeing 787-10, the airline expects to reduce total emissions of flight EY20 by 72%, and emissions per unit of payload by 56%, compared to the equivalent flight in 2019, at that time operated mainly with Airbus A380s. Among the features of the latest ‘eco flight’ will be a 38% blend of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) and new technology designed by SATAVIA to minimise climate-warming aircraft contrails. A dedicated page on the Etihad website has been set up to encourage customers to book a journey on the flight and is running a competition offering a free seat.
The Etihad Greenliner programme, a partnership with Boeing and GE, was launched at the Dubai Air Show in 2019 to highlight the importance of industry collaboration in reducing aviation’s emissions. At a joint unveiling with Boeing of the ‘Greenliner’ aircraft livery, Etihad announced that scheduled flights with its entire fleet of Boeing 787-9 and 787-10 aircraft could be used by approved partners for collaborative research of efficiency and sustainability measures in real operating conditions.
Commenting on the October 23 flight, Tony Douglas, CEO of the Etihad Group, said: “This will put into practice all our learnings over the last two years of the Etihad Greenliner programme, which has allowed us to test SAF, eco-friendly products and a range of operational efficiencies, as well as reduce single-use plastic on board and practice optimised flight route planning and continuous descent.”
But he sounded a warning about impediments to achieving net zero emissions aviation.
“We understand that current and near-future technology can only take us and the aviation industry so far,” he said. “We urgently need to see fundamental advances in technology and support from governments and regulators across the world, so we can overcome the current challenges to reaching the industry target of zero emissions by 2050.”
Among these was the price of SAF, which Douglas told a recent CAPA Live summit was too expensive and needed incentives to encourage airline uptake. “Unless the economics of this can be resolved,” he said, “it clearly isn’t going to be a sustainable part of the solution.”
The Heathrow – Abu Dhabi flight, which typically takes six hours 50 minutes, will be preceded on October 23 by an aircraft exterior wash, to maximise aerodynamics and efficiency, and a dedicated foam wash for its two GEnX engines, a process developed in partnership with the engine manufacturer, GE. Fuel for the flight will incorporate a 38% blend of undisclosed sustainable product.
Etihad will use new software being developed by UK-based partner SATAVIA to model the formation of contrails, or emitted vapour trails, for the flight, which will be used to optimise routing and help eliminate surface warming generated by aircraft contrails at cruise altitudes.
Through the use of Boeing’s Jeppesen FliteDeck Advisor technology, the pilots will have access to real time data to help maximise the sustainable performance of the aircraft and in collaboration with air navigation service providers, an optimised route will be planned, including the most efficient climb profile from Heathrow, the best path and altitudes for the journey, and a continuous descent to Abu Dhabi.
To further improve fuel efficiency on the flight, Etihad will remove unnecessary weight from the aircraft by reducing the amount of potable water carried, demand for which varies by route and even by time of flight, according to previous research by the airline. Passengers also will be rewarded for flying without checked bags or with lightweight luggage, further reducing aircraft weight through more efficient packing.
On board, lightweight stainless-steel cutlery will be used, as will specially selected catering items including meal trays and crockery, menus will include vegan options, but exclude products including beef and palm oil, which are not produced sustainably. All passengers will receive personal water bottles instead of single use cups, reducing waste, which will be segregated for recycling in Abu Dhabi.
After landing, the aircraft will use single-engine taxi-in and be supported at the terminal by new electric-powered tractors to tow baggage and freight.
Information collected through the aircraft’s sensors will be analysed using tools from another Etihad sustainability partner, GE Digital, and the results added to the airline’s data bank to help pilots and engineers on future flights to recognise patterns of unsustainable activity, and to respond quickly.
In a further initiative to commemorate the special flight, the airline will plant in an Abu Dhabi mangrove plantation one tree for every passenger on the plane, a measure which follows its recent introduction of the CarbonClick programme, through which passengers can purchase offsets to help mitigate their share of flight emissions. The offsets were sourced through the Makame Savannah REDD Project created by Carbon Tanzania and compensate for approximately 80,000 tonnes of CO2, an amount which the airline said would take 100,000 trees one year to consume.
In addition to the special flight, other initiatives have also been used by Etihad this year to help meet a pledge to offset the total emissions generated by the signature Greenliner Dreamliner for the whole of 2021.
Etihad is phasing out its fleet of 19 Boeing 777-300ER passenger aircraft and has indicated that it is highly unlikely to recall all, or possibly any, of its 10 Airbus A380 super jumbos. Alongside its growing fleet of Boeing 787s, Etihad is also introducing more efficient and sustainable Airbus A350-1000 aircraft, as well new Boeing 777-9s.
Photo: Etihad Greenliner