Sustainability and decarbonization took center stage during the “UAE’s Commitment to Sustainability: creating a more sustainable circular economy” forum at the Dubai Airshow on Monday. Moderated by Joseph McMonigle, secretary general of the International Energy Forum, top executives from Airbus, Boeing, Rolls-Royce, and Etihad Aviation Group reported on their efforts and achievements in the arena.
The Greenliner sustainability platform, an Etihad 787-10, recently completed a flight from London to Abu Dhabi that realized a 72 percent improvement in fuel efficiency compared to an A380 flight in 2019, said Tony Douglas, Etihad Aviation Group CEO. The improvement came in part from the use of 38 percent sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) and ATC services that allowed a continuous climb and descent, as well as route optimization. The Greenliner also holds the record for longest flight using sustainable aviation fuel: 14 hours on 50 percent SAF.
Looking back as well as forward, Julie Kitcher, executive v-p of communications of corporate affairs at Airbus, noted the aviation industry has reduced CO2 emissions by more than 50 percent since the last century simply through the 20 percent to 25 percent improvements in efficiency with each generation of aircraft. Yet only about 10 percent of today’s commercial fleet consists of current-generation aircraft.
All panelists agreed the sustainability challenge includes creating new infrastructures while maintaining economic viability to support the promising technologies under development. Boeing chief sustainability officer Chris Raymond called “innovation and partnerships critical to the sustainability [effort]” and applauded airlines for fleet renewals, which he called “hugely beneficial” in reducing operating costs and emissions.
Boeing tested the fuel-saving winglets found on many airliners today with the EcoDemonstrator program, he noted. The company now participates in the development of electric engines with the Wisk Cora, which has flown more than 1,500 times.
With SAF as the most promising development for reducing emissions on turbine engines, Rolls-Royce has committed that all its turbines will be operable on 100 percent SAF by 2030. It also sees a “huge opportunity” in electrification for short-haul routes and hybrid turbo-generators to extend the range of electric-powered aircraft, said Rob Watson, director of Rolls-Royce Electrification.
Hydrogen power also holds tremendous promise, and Rolls-Royce flies five different aircraft on four types of hydrogen power. The company is also exploring hydrogen as a feedstock for SAF, which will require the generation of electricity from renewable sources. “Everybody should want more green hydrogen and renewable electricity,” said Watson.