Is Etihad Airways Leading The Way In Terms Of Sustainable Aviation? (Article)

In an expansion of its ongoing sustainability flight testing regime, Etihad Airways, the national carrier of the United Arab Emirates, is conducting a week of intensive research and testing on over 30 flights to test operational efficiencies, technology, and procedures that will reduce carbon emissions.

Over 20 commercial flights will operate across Etihad’s network during the week-long event, which coincides with Earth Day on April 22nd, to test contrail avoidance solutions in collaboration with SATAVIA, a UK-based green aerospace firm. Up to 13 dedicated ‘EcoFlights’ will be operated by the airline to test various flight and engine optimization techniques, with successful trials being adopted into regularly scheduled operations. Etihad’s fleet of fuel-efficient A350 and 787 aeroplanes, led by the ‘Etihad Greenline,’ and Etihad’s newest aircraft, the ‘Sustainable 50,’ will be used for each flight test.

“Etihad has demonstrated its commitment to sustainability over the last three years, leading the industry through real-world testing and application of technology and processes that provide incremental environmental benefit every time we fly,” said Tony Douglas, Group Chief Executive Officer, Etihad Aviation Group. The tests we’re conducting this week are simply the latest in a long-running and comprehensive sustainability programme. We prioritize sustainability every day, not just once a year when convenient and expected. The findings will be added to the work and knowledge base we’ve developed to assist the aviation sector in its decarbonization efforts.”

Most of the tests undertaken this week are part of a year-long collaboration with SATAVIA to enable contrail prevention by merging atmospheric modelling with operational flight planning. Aircraft contrails, also known as condensation trails, are clouds formed by aircraft-generated ice crystals that trap atmospheric heat and have a net surface heating effect globally. Contrails are responsible for up to 60% of aviation’s total climate impact, equal to 2% of all human influence.

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“Our understanding of contrails is based on decades of atmospheric science, which can now be integrated with high-performance computer modelling to detect contrail production zones and optimize flight plans for contrail prevention,” stated Dr Adam Durant, CEO of SATIVA. After these tests, we’ll work with Etihad to assess the climate benefit of contrail prevention on a flight-by-flight basis. This will pave the way for future conversion into tradable carbon credits, incentivizing extensive contrail avoidance adoption across the aircraft industry.”

Contrary to many other green aerospace initiatives, contrail prevention is a software solution that can be adopted quickly by integrating with flight operations.

“By partnering with SATAVIA to adopt contrail prevention in day-to-day operations, Etihad is leading the industry on an essential issue,” Douglas said. “We must consider both the indirect and direct climatic impacts of aviation, and contrail prevention is critical to achieving rapid progress in this field.”

Etihad will operate up to 13 dedicated EcoFlights in addition to contrail avoidance R&D flight tests, following six previous sustainability-focused operations since 2019, including the EY20 Sustainable Flight from London to Abu Dhabi in October last year, which reduced carbon emissions by 72% compared to a similar flight in 2019.

These flights will test and operational trial initiatives to evaluate and confirm previous eco-light learnings for flight path optimization, such as optimized climb and continuous descent, optimal departure runway, last-minute engine start-up, network-wide single-engine taxi procedures, and flight deck technology solutions.

Etihad is also releasing its first Sustainability Report with the research and testing flights. This publicly available study, set to be presented on Earth Day 2022, details the airline’s sustainability initiatives during the past two years, including ground-based electric tractors, airspace efficiency improvements, and even experimental test flights with NASA and Boeing. Etihad is well on its way to meeting its lofty sustainability objectives after two years of success in lowering the impact of its operations on the globe.

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Etihad said in January 2019 that its goal is to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 and halve net emissions by 2035. It has now developed the aviation industry’s most comprehensive, cross-organizational sustainability project, led by its Greenline and Sustainable50 programmes in collaboration with Boeing, Airbus, GE, and Rolls Royce.

Etihad welcomes and invites partners from the aviation sector to join and test sustainability initiatives on scheduled 787 and A350 operations through these programmes and Etihad’s ongoing research and testing projects such as EcoFlights. The data is subsequently evaluated and validated, with the most sustainable efforts serving as a foundation for enhancing the worldwide airline community’s performance.