The flights were part of a program called “Greenliner”, operated by the UAE’s national carrier Etihad Airways, as a test bed for sustainable air travel solutions.
That is why SAF is one of the key elements of the “Greenliner” program. “It’s basically a call to action,” says Maryam Al-Qubaisi, head of sustainability at the coalition. “The idea came at the end of 2019 to send a message to the industry: let’s do everything we can to decarbonize.” The program is based around the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, but Etihad has a similar initiative, called Sustainable50, dedicated to the Airbus A350. Since its inception, Greenliner has successfully adopted SAF and tackled issues such as plastic waste and inefficient flight paths.
Ethiad’s “Sustainable50” Airbus A350.
The “Greenliner” moniker is often used to refer to a specific 787 aircraft, which Al-Qubaisi calls the “mascot” of the program. Not surprisingly, it’s painted green — which she says is a way to pre-empt accusations of greenwashing.
“Any project any airline undertakes will always be scrutinized under the umbrella of greenwashing,” she explains. “Painting the plane green was a way of challenging that and saying it’s dedicated to a cause. We own our emissions: we’re saying yes, we’re a big emitter. — but we’re doing something about it.”
A quick fix
The apparent absurdity highlights challenges with both SAF infrastructure and communication green initiatives. The plane did not have SAF because current regulations prohibit commercial flights from using more than 50% SAF, as not all engines are certified for higher concentrations. In addition, not all airports have the infrastructure to use it, and the green fuel must come from a production facility relatively close to the airport to offset the emissions reductions of flights with those from transportation. can be avoided.
Therefore, Etihad purchased enough SAF to power the flight and transported the fuel to Los Angeles International Airport, which has the necessary infrastructure and facilities. There, the SAF was integrated into the airport’s refueling system with conventional fuel, and was used by whatever aircraft was refueling that day. This system is called “book and claim” and is currently the only way to claim 100% SAF usage. Discharge takes place at a location other than a specific flight.
Etihad’s “Greenliner” program examines sustainability measures on its Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
Al-Qubesi calls it a “quick fix” until the regulations change, but more progress is needed to expand the SAF. “SAF costs four to five times that of conventional jet fuel and is in limited supply. Only two organizations are allowed to certify it, so unless we have more and governments to incentivize production “If we don’t intervene, the SAF will remain limited,” she says.
Etihad has used SAF extensively in a series of “EcoFlights”, which use the carrier’s 787 and A350 fleet to assess new sustainability initiatives. The airline’s most eco-friendly flight ever, concluded its London Heathrow to Abu Dhabi service on 23 October 2021. Etihad says the flight achieved a 38% SAF (an overall 72% reduction in emissions through ‘book and claim’) and adopted many other measures, such as reducing single-use plastics by 80%. Lowering and conveying goods by electric tractors.
It was also the first commercial flight to test a new method to avoid the formation of contrails using navigation and artificial intelligence to combat emissions. These are vapor trails that form when ice crystals gather around exhaust gases from airplane engines, and the resulting ephemeral clouds trap heat, the warming effect of air travel. I contribute significantly. But changing the plane’s path or altitude can help dramatically. “The heat you’re saving is up to 60%, if not more, by spending a little more time traveling,” says Al-Qubaisi. “The good thing about it is that it’s done through specific algorithms that make the system better the more we use it.”
A green future?
Etihad’s “EcoFlights” have tested a number of technologies and techniques to reduce emissions, such as an optimized climb and continuous descent, last-minute engine start, single-engine taxi procedures, And wash the engine with a special foam. which improves performance by reducing the accumulation of deposits.
Smart navigation can help reduce a flight’s carbon footprint.
There is still much to be done, says Al-Qabasi: “This is an industry that has had free rein on pollution for many years and it is time for us to live up to our responsibility to decarbonize.”
The key to achieving greener aviation is everyone working towards it, she adds: “Hopefully you’ll hear about more airlines joining the Greenliner program, because it makes a difference. It doesn’t matter who does it first – what matters is who does it better.
“We can do better together, because sustainability is not an area of competition, it’s an area of cooperation.”