Sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) is believed to reduce air travel carbon emissions by up to 80 per cent across its life cycle. According to experts, what would be the implications of this increase in fuel prices, supply shortages and how does it impact transportation of cargo.
The cargo sector has had to navigate the challenges resulting from high fuel prices, supply shortages and border and travel restrictions in Asia. Through a proactive and customer-centric approach, Etihad Cargo has managed to face these challenges, says Thomas Schürmann, Head of Cargo Operations & Delivery. He offers an insight into the changes of this dynamic operations.
List some of the ways by which Etihad Cargo is developing fuel-efficient aircraft?
Sustainability remains a key pillar of Etihad Aviation Group and Etihad Cargo’s agenda. The airline pledges to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, and the carrier identifies sustainability as long-term priority of the business, with continued investment in other sustainable solutions, including the development of maximum fuel-efficient aircraft, despite challenges faced in the past two years due to the ongoing COVID-19.
To achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, we will reduce emissions by 20 per cent by 2025 and slash emissions up to 50 per cent of 2019 levels by 2035. These ambitious plans are the first for any airline in the Gulf region, and we are one of the few in the industry to set targets of this scale. When announced, no clear blueprint was available.
However, since then, we have taken giant strides to lead the development of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) and are the only one in the region investing in SAF and using the technology to ensure all the aircraft are as fuel-efficient as possible.
Etihad Cargo has one of the youngest fleets in operation, with an average age of six years that comprise the most efficient aircraft currently available. Fifty per cent of materials used to manufacture the B787s are composite, while 70 per cent of the A350s, which recently entered our fleet. This provides Etihad Cargo an efficiency that positively impacts emissions. The carrier also recently performed the world’s most intensive sustainable flight-testing programme, operating more than 30 flights over five days to test operational efficiencies and technology and procedures that reduce carbon emissions. The results will contribute to reducing the aviation sector’s carbon emissions and environmental impact as the learnings are implemented into standard airline operations across the industry.
Etihad Cargo’s flagship sustainability programmes include the Greenliner programme using the airline’s fleet of Boeing 787 Dreamliners as flying test-beds, as well as Sustainable50 A350-1000 launched earlier this year. Demonstrating the airline’s progress in executing its industry-leading strategy to improve aviation sustainability, Etihad Airways was recently named ‘Environmental Airline of the Year 2022’ in the annual Airlines Ratings Awards.
Over the past three years, the airline has conducted a vast number of research eco-flights demonstrating potential carbon emission savings of up to 72 per cent on a single flight. It has also tested and implemented world-first operational efficiencies and technology solutions, including Jeppesen Flite Deck Advisor, SATAVIA contrail avoidance, GE Engine Foam Wash, eTech logs and lightweight Unit Load Devices.
In line with Etihad Cargo’s sustainability initiatives and its promise to deliver increased fuel and operational efficiencies and offsets, the airline recently changed its tagline ‘From Abu Dhabi to the world’ to ‘From Abu Dhabi for the world’, which further solidifies the airline’s commitment to the achievement of a greener, sustainable future.
The rising cost of fuel has had impacted the air cargo sector. How has Etihad Cargo dealt with the challenges that come with this?
Throughout the pandemic, we have remained committed to our customers, offering a variety of cargo capacity, including preighters. Under the latest mandate of the Joint Prevention and Control Mechanism of the State Council in response to ongoing COVID-19, it has resumed direct passenger flights to Beijing. Commencing 1 July, Etihad Cargo
is offering 15 direct flights per week to China moving a cargo capacity of 2,708 tonnes, using passenger flights and preighters.
Etihad Cargo has regained 100 per cent capacity utilisation and added to its pre-COVID-19 network and rotations. As the markets continue to open, we will add impetus to our services to key destinations in the summer months. At the same time, we will explore opportunities to add capacity where it is required.
What is the percentage of SAF being used in your cargo division and how has it impacted in reducing your carbon footprint?
Although the cost of SAF is currently high to roll out SAF across all flights, Etihad Cargo encourages the companies to invest in the sustainable fuel through its Greenliner Programme. In collaboration with partners, this programme has enabled the airline to introduce pioneering products and procedures across its operations, including efficient engines, operational efficiencies and, sustainable fuels and the like.
While Etihad Cargo currently does not utilize a set percentage of SAF on its flights, the airline launched its first eco-flight in 2019 and sustainable flight in October 2021. On a number of these flights, as much as 40 per cent sustainable fuel is used so we reduce our carbon emissions as much as possible thus enabling a 70 per cent reduction in primary carbon emissions on those flights. Etihad Cargo is exploring to increase the use of SAF and, in this regard, is developing a dedicated plan for cargo operations, which will be launched in due course.
In addition to developing fuel-efficient aircraft, Etihad Cargo is exploring how to make every element of the air cargo journey sustainable. To cite an example, Etihad Cargo has entered into an agreement with B Medical Systems to launch the world’s first airline-specific passive temperature-controlled solution for the transportation of life-saving drugs, vaccines and pharmaceutical products. These flights can retain temperatures from —80°C to 25°C for five days, while still reducing carbon emissions. We replaced as many as 3,000 containers from our original aluminium ULD fleet with environmentally-friendly lightweight versions. On in an average wide-bodied flight, utilization of these lighter ULDs can provide a weight-saving of 200 kg with low fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. We will continue to launch initiatives as part of our commitment to improve and create a more sustainable future for our customers and the industry.
Can you elaborate about the future plans in pipeline?
The future looks bright for Etihad Cargo. Following the announcement of our outstanding mid-year results, we are going to continue working closely with our clients to meet their demands in the face of evolving market conditions. In addition to developing airline-specific passive temperature-controlled containers, which will be launched soon, we are working on a dedicated sustainability plan for cargo operations. We are looking forward to sharing our plan in due course and launching initiatives that will benefit the air cargo sector.
On the group level, Etihad Group’s latest initiative is Corporate Conscious Choices, which rewards corporates and employees with a series of cohesive sustainability initiatives for providing a competitive edge to partners through sustainability. The programme offers benefits across four core sustainability pillars, including SAF Investment, Green Surcharge, Corporate Conscious Points, and Carbon Offers. Etihad Cargo will also work to identify cargo-focused initiatives, which will be announced in the coming months.
In addition, we will be opening a new cool chain facility at Abu Dhabi airport. The dedicated pharmaceutical facility will increase our cool chain storage capacity and expand our services for pharmaceutical flows. The centre within the cool chain facility will expand Etihad Cargo’s capabilities in the transportation of fresh food and produce. Also we will be announcing more exciting projects that will further cement Etihad Cargo’s position as the air cargo partner of choice.