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Sustainability within the air cargo sector


The buzz word in aviation is sustainability. We uncover what it means to be truly eco-friendly and how far air cargo industry has reached in getting there. Are they on their way to become fully decarbonized by 2050? Experts give their view point.


Tim Isik, Vice President Commercial, Etihad Cargo

Over recent years, sustainability has become a hot topic in the aviation sector, and it will remain a priority for the air cargo sector because it has to. We are responsible for developing and providing more sustainable solutions for our partners and customers, not only for the benefit of our own operations but for the wider industry and the world. The aviation sector is not known for being sustainable.


The world’s aviation sector was responsible for 3 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions in 2019, and this could increase to up to 22 per cent of global emissions by 2050. As other sectors decarbonise more quickly, it is critical for the global air cargo community to act now to invest in more sustainable solutions. The global industry’s fuel performance improved considerably over the last few decades.


The CO2 consumption per RTK decreased by 54% when comparing 1990 levels to 2018. That was achieved mainly by airlines investing over US$1 trillion in 15,000 more efficient new-technology aircraft since 2009, airlines and manufacturers developing initiatives to reduce aircraft’s frictional resistance, airlines adopting measures to reduce aircraft total weight (light - weight pallets), and airlines adopting more efficient operational procedures. In line with Abu Dhabi Environment Vision 2030,


At Etihad, we are committed to doing our part. Our goal is to achieve zero net carbon emissions by 2050. To do that, we pledge to achieve a 20 per cent reduction in emissions intensity by 2025, and by 2035, we aim to cut 2019 net emissions by 50 per cent. Despite a challenging two years, we have continued delivering on our commitment through various programmes that form our sustainability plan.


To accelerate the decarbonization of the air cargo sector, Etihad Cargo has partnered with IATA to co-develop and trial a cargo-specific CO2 emission calculation tool, which will provide a valuable proof of concept for the cargo component of the IATA CO2 Connect carbon calculator. Over the three-month trial, Etihad Cargo will track flights and collect actual data on fuel burn, load factors and other key variables to develop an accurate calculator.


Upon launch, IATA’s CO2 Connect carbon calculator will be accessible to the entire industry and will be an effective tool in making the transportation of cargo, including pharmaceuticals, more sustainable.Etihad Cargo became the first middle eastern carrier to join TIACA’s BlueSky sustainability verification programme.


The first phase of the programme will allow the carrier to assess its progress against eight critical sustainability criteria via an evidence-based desktop verification process. This will enable us to effectively measure our sustainability efforts, benefiting Etihad Cargo’s customers and the wider air cargo industry will allow the carrier to assess its progress against eight critical sustainability criteria via an evidence-based desktop verification process. This will enable us to effectively measure our sustainability efforts, benefiting Etihad Cargo’s customers and the wider air cargo industry.


The cargo airline entered intoan agreement with B Medical Systems to develop and launch the world’s first airline-specific passive temperature-controlled solution for the transportation of life-saving drugs, vaccines, and high-value pharmaceuticals. As these temperature-controlled container units utilize passive cooling technology, they do not require an external power source. They can retain temperatures from —80 to 25° C for five days while still significantly reducing carbon emissions.


Additionally, Etihad Cargo replaced 3,000 containers from our original aluminium unit load device (ULD) fleet with environmentally friendly lightweight versions. On the average wide-bodied flight, utilisation of these lighter ULDs can provide a weight-saving of over 200 kg, which has lowered fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. In addition to providing more sustainable container options for our customers, Etihad Cargo is also investing in our fleet as part of our decarbonisation strategy, and we have one of the youngest, most innovative, and fuel-efficient fleets in the world.


On average, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner is 15-25 per cent more efficient than similar aircraft. By 2023, the 787 will make up more than 50% of our fleet. Under our Sustainable50 programme, we also introduced the innovative Airbus A350-1000 aircraft to our fleet in 2022. Powered by Rolls Royce WXB, the A350 is more than 1kg lighter than any other Airbus aircraft, and 50 per cent quieter. Recently, Etihad announced that it had firmed up its order for seven new generation 350F.


The new freighter promises that it will demonstrate “unbeatable fuel efficiency,” with a 40 per cent lower fuel burn and CO2 emissions than its competitor. The A350F fully meets ICAO’s enhanced CO2 emissions standards coming into effect in 2027. One of the latest steps Etihad Cargo has taken to reduce carbon emissions is our recent NetZero flight. In partnership with netzero solutions provider World Energy, we operated the first net zero flight powered entirely by SAF Book & Claim. DSV Global Transport and Logistics became Etihad Cargo’s first partner to purchase sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) to offset the carbon emissions of its cargo shipment.


Via the book and claim system, Etihad Cargo facilitated DSV’s SAF purchase, enabling the transport and logistics provider to offset CO2 emissions and reduce non-CO2 climate impact. Etihad Cargo transported DSV’s cargo shipment from Washington Dulles to Abu Dhabi on Etihad’s first transatlantic NetZero flight on 13 November. This initiative is about proving NetZero commercial aviation is possible and recognizes the significant logistical challenges the industry faces in turning the possible into the routine.


At a group level, Etihad was recently named the Environmental Airline of the Year 2022. For Etihad Cargo and Etihad Aviation Group, sustainability is more than just a performative measure — it is a key element of our strategy, and we have demonstrated our commitment through the launch of several programmes and initiatives.


Jason Siy Vice President Cargo Business, Philippine Airlines

The sustainable efforts taken by his carrier include the transformation of the processes to digital, resulting to less paperwork for transactions. E-AWBs. 193 ICAO Member States adopted a collective long-term global aspirational goal (LTAG) of delivering net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.


Enhanced efficiency measures across the industry (eg aircraft operations, flight routing); Accelerated energy transition (that is, increased production, deployment and use of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF)); and ongoing innovation across the aviation sector (eg new and innovative aircraft and engine technology).


Philippine Airlines Sustainability plans introduced in 2022 with industry expert consultation sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). The ground services provider has also continued efforts to optimise resources and reduce its environmental footprint across its global network. Most recently, it has installed renewable energy tech, such as solar panels, heat recovery units and electric vehicle charging, at its existing facilities in the United Kingdom and Singapore. dnata will also incorporate carbon reduction initiatives in the construction and operation of its new cargo centres in Iraq and Netherlands.


Greg Foran CEO, Air New Zealand

The flag carrier of New Zealand, Air New Zealand, recently unveiled plans to collaborate with four innovators to build its first zero-emissions demonstrator flight. The aim is to fly zero-emissions cargo or passenger aircraft from 2026. Mission NextGen Aircraft is not about backing one innovator. It’s about working with a range of leaders in zero-emissions aircraft technology to help move the whole ecosystem along.


Bhupinder Singh CEO, Messe Muenchen India, organiser of air cargo Africa 2023

The global air cargo market is expected to return to profitability in 2023 despite a downturn in freight volumes owing to a slowdown in international trade, as per IATA. Despite these global trends, the African air cargo market looks promising as indicated by the launch of new carriers, fast adoption of technology, and increasing consumer demand throughout the continent.


This makes us hopeful that air cargo Africa 2023 will amplify the existing legacy of the exhibition by attracting newer players, institutional service suppliers across consumer verticals, and a massive community of traders, importers, and exporters from South Africa and its adjacent markets. The air cargo industry has undergone a seismic shift over the years, culminating is its powerful performance during the pandemic.


Technology-driven processes that foster seamless transborder trade combined with strong leadership among carriers, freight forwarders, and various service suppliers in the industry have refined the air cargo business model, making it safe, efficient, and cost-effective to transport by air, rather than any other medium. However, there is much room for improvement, especially when it comes to aligning interests in newer markets and innovating for sustainability and emissions reduction.


Through our deep understanding of and experience with the global cargo industry, we at Messe Muenchen India are confident of enabling meaningful handshakes and unlocking business opportunities at air cargo Africa 2023, to be held on 21-23, February 2023, at the Emperors Palace, Johannesburg.


Frank Bernthaler CEO, Admiral Mobility

Our effort is to encourage sustainability so customers who are more inclined towards it are our primary target consumers. The company introduced Electric Consumer Vehicles in the GCC market. With COP28 fast approaching and sustainability being high on everyone’s agendas, this partnership is an important step forward to build a robust, EV truck portfolio in the region.


As we transition towards more environmentally friendly energy and transportation solutions, we are proud to play a key role in building an infrastructure that empowers the government’s electrification strategy, and we are looking forward to supporting businesses as they move towards electric vehicles in the region.


Saurabh Bhalla Managing Director, Air and Sea Logistics

The airline industry is having a fair number of new players emerging into the market. Traditional shipping lines such as Maersk and MSC have started air operations. These are going to be some interesting times for the freight forwarding industry. Airlines have started offering forwarding services such as customs clearance for inbound and outbound shipments. With the reliance on dock bookings the agents are moving towards 24-hour shifts as the GHA is trying to push bookings more after office hours.




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