1 December 2021

GreenAir News

Reporting on aviation and the environment

Focus at Dubai Airshow on net zero as confidence returns to a struggling aviation sector

Two prominent themes emerged at the 2021 Dubai Airshow: recalibration and decarbonisation. With recovery now underway in the air transport industry, confidence was in abundance, with major orders for passenger and freighter aircraft accompanied by the ubiquitous deployment of the word ‘sustainable’, as the air transport industry zeroed in on net zero, while simultaneously increasing operations post-pandemic, reports Tony Harrington. For the first time outside the United States, Boeing displayed and demonstrated its super-efficient but delayed 777-9 widebody, ordered by major customers including all three big Gulf carriers, Emirates, Qatar Airways and Etihad. The latter announced it was renewing and expanding its Greenliner sustainability programme – currently focused on the airline’s GEnX-powered Boeing 787 aircraft – to include its Rolls-Royce XWB-powered Airbus A350 fleet. Building on its 2020 commitment to achieve net zero by 2050, UAE national airline Etihad revealed during the air show interim targets to reducing emissions intensity and volumes, and signed a number of sustainability-focused agreements.

It announced that by 2025, the carrier would reduce its fleet emissions intensity by 20% and by 2035 it would halve its 2019-equivalent emission volumes, en-route to the net zero 2050 target.

Etihad’s first of five Airbus A350-1000s, which rolled off the production line and into storage prior to the Covid outbreak as the airline restructured its operations, was unveiled at the show in a ‘UAE50’ livery in recognition of the 50th anniversary of the federation of the UAE and Etihad’s net zero by 2050 commitment. Last month, the UAE announced the UAE Net Zero by 2050 Strategic Initiative, making it the first nation in the Middle East to commit to the emissions goal.

Tony Douglas, CEO of Etihad Aviation Group, said “there was no silver bullet, no obvious, single act” that would decarbonise aviation. “It’s going to require the combination and the sum of many different organisations and governments working together for small, incremental improvements,” he said. “Governments and regulators must help the industry to drive innovation for long-term solutions to decarbonising aviation. Support is needed for development of affordable and sufficient supply of sustainable fuels. Optimising flight paths on the busiest routes in the world would prevent untold amounts of CO2 from being pumped into the atmosphere. There is a big opportunity here that doesn’t require any new technology to implement and could be implemented today if there was a will.”

The renewal of the agreement with Boeing and GE will see them exploring opportunities to test new propulsion technologies that lower emissions. The partnership with Airbus establishes a formal framework to collaborate across a number of core areas on Etihad’s A350 fleet to improve environmental performance, specifically the promotion and commercialisation of sustainable aviation fuel, waste and weight management, and the development of data driven analysis. The agreement with Rolls-Royce will look to maximise the potential of the XWB engine as well as targeting the application of electrification technologies and hybrid systems, together with the use of electric motors for commuter aircraft and the emerging urban air mobility sector.

Additionally, Etihad signed MoUs in Dubai to collaborate with UK-based Satavia, which uses data to optimise flight plans and reduce aircraft-generated contrails and CO2, with Tadweer, the Abu Dhabi Waste Management Centre, to jointly explore opportunities to convert commercial, industrial and municipal solid waste into sustainable aviation fuel, and also with The Story Group, to plant mangrove trees in Abu Dhabi’s Jubail Mangrove Park as part of the airline’s carbon offsetting strategy.

Meanwhile, Emirates and GE Aviation also signed a MoU to test fly a GE90-powered 777-300ER with 100% sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) by the end of 2022. John Slattery, CEO of GE Aviation, said the engine manufacturer was committed to developing emission reduction technologies for both in-service and new aircraft, while Emirates COO Adel Al Redha said the partnership was “an important step” towards securing certification of 100% SAF flights.

The airline received its first A380 powered by SAF in December 2020 and, with the support of Swedavia’s Biofuel Incentive Programme, also uplifted 32 tonnes of SAF for its flights from Stockholm earlier that year. Flights from Oslo have also begun operating on SAF under the Norwegian government’s SAF blending mandate policy.

New technologies to improve the sustainable performance of existing aircraft also featured at the Dubai show.

Among them, US-based Universal Hydrogen, which is developing kits to convert conventionally-powered turboprop aircraft to hydrogen-electric propulsion systems, has secured a letter of intent from Acia Aero Leasing for kits to convert 10 ATR-72 aircraft, and options for 20 additional kits for various turboprop types. Universal has developed hydrogen capsules, which can be transported via existing freight networks from hydrogen production facilities direct to airports and loaded into the aircraft they will power.

Lufthansa Technik (LHT) and BASF showcased their Aeroshark surface film, designed to reduce aircraft aerodynamic drag. The product features micro-riblets to replicate the skin of a shark, and initially will be applied to 10 Lufthansa Cargo Boeing 777s from early 2022, reducing carbon emissions by an estimated 11,700 tonnes per year. LHT also signed a MoU with Etihad that will explore digital solutions to further optimise the airline’s technical fleet and operations management, and boost fuel efficiency.

Boeing displayed the latest aircraft in its ecoDemonstrator programme, a Boeing 737-9 on loan from Alaska Airlines, which is being used to evaluate 20 safety and sustainability projects. 

As backdrops to the show, Airbus, Boeing and Embraer all released 20-year forecasts of air travel growth – globally, by region and by segment – with significant but varied predictions of requirements for new aircraft. Airbus estimates that by 2040, 39,000 new-build planes will be needed, 29,700 of them ‘small’ jets such as the narrowbody A220 and A320; 5,300 ‘medium’ A321XLR (extra-long range) narrowbodies or twin-aisle A330neos; and 4,000 large, long-range twins. Boeing goes higher with around 43,000, including 32,660 single-aisle jets, 2,390 regional jets and 7,670 widebodies. Regional specialist Embraer forecasts the need for 10,900 new sub-150 seat aircraft, 8,640 of them jets and 2,260 turboprops. In addition to opportunities to cut operating costs, all cited the need for airlines to decarbonise their operations as one of the key drivers of fleet renewal.

Photo: Dubai Airshow 2021 (© Mark Pilling)

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