Dubai: Flying sustainable is costly for passengers, airlines, says Emirates official

Dubai carrier operated the first test flight of the Airbus A380 using 100% sustainable aviation fuel in one of four engines to test performance


Waheed Abbas

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Photos: Waheed Abbas
Photos: Waheed Abbas

Published: Wed 22 Nov 2023, 2:35 PM

Last updated: Wed 22 Nov 2023, 4:43 PM

While airlines and manufacturers are committed to reducing emissions, there's no denying that the production and distribution of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) is still challenging and costlier for airlines or passengers.

Dubai-based Emirates airline, on Wednesday, operated the world's first test flight of the largest passenger aircraft, Airbus A380, using 100 per cent sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) in one of four engines to test performance.

Speaking to reporters at the Dubai International airport, Adel Al Redha, chief operating officer of Emirates airline, said, "The cost of producing SAF is a challenge. Producing (enough) quantity and distributing it along all airports is a challenge. There are still physical challenges that as an industry we need to overcome.

"The current prices of producing SAF are really high and airlines will not be able to sustain such high prices or passengers. Once we produce (big) volume, definitely, that will be a factor in reducing the production and distribution cost."

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Produced from non-petroleum-based renewables including the food and yard waste portion of municipal solid waste, woody biomass, fats, greases, and other feedstocks, SAF can reduce carbon emission by up to 85 per cent over the fuel’s life cycle when compared to conventional jet fuel

When asked if Emirates has set any target to use SAF in its operations, he said: “It’s not about Emirates setting a target, it is about what is really available in the industry to support.”

Availability a challenge

Al Redha said the availability of sustainable fuel for airlines in various airports is still a challenge. “We rely on fuel suppliers to start manufacturing such fuel on the volume that we will be requiring. I hope in the years to come, we will see SAF being available at various airports to the required level to support airline requirements. We have already started picking up SAF on some airports, but not to the percentage we required,” he said, adding that if 10 to 13 per cent of SAF were made available across the globe in the next five years, it would be quite an achievement.

He was confident that SAF would be made available in the future as all the major entities such as IATA, airlines and manufacturers are very much committed to reducing emissions.

Emirates recently expanded its partnership with Neste for the supply of over 3 million gallons of blended SAF in 2024 and 2025 for flights departing from Amsterdam Schiphol and Singapore Changi airports.

The airline currently uplifts SAF in Norway and France and continues to seek opportunities to use SAF at various airports as supply becomes available.

A380 flight

Commanded by Captain Khalid Binsultan and Captain Philippe Lombet, Emirates’ A380 flight took off from Dubai International Airport (DXB) at 11 am and returned after an hour’s flight with one of four engines powered on 100 per cent SAF while conventional jet fuel was used in the other three engines.

Senior officials of Airbus, Pratt & Whitney, Engine Alliance, Enoc and other SAF fuel suppliers attended the flight demonstration.

The A380 flight carried four tonnes of SAF, provided by Neste (hydro-processed esters and fatty acids synthetic paraffinic kerosene) and from Virent (hydro-deoxygenated synthetic aromatic kerosene). Local fuel retailer Enoc helped to secure the neat SAF at its facility in Dubai International Airport ahead of the demonstration and also carried out into-plane services.

“Emirates is the first passenger airline in the world to operate an A380 with 100 per cent drop-in SAF powering one of four Engine Alliance GP7200 engines… The growing global demand for lower-emission jet fuel alternatives is there, and the work of producers and suppliers to commercialise SAF and make it available will be critical in the coming years to help Emirates and the wider industry advance our path to lower carbon emissions,” said Adel Al Redha.

Julie Kitcher, executive vice president for communications and corporate affairs at Airbus, said SAF is vital to meeting the sector's target of net-zero emissions in 2050 but needs the backing of the whole industry.

“We are working to make all our aircraft 100 per cent SAF-capable by 2030.”

“Increasing the use of SAF is critical to achieving the goal of net-zero carbon emissions for aviation, and we are dedicated to ensuring all of Pratt & Whitney’s engines and APUs are compatible with current and future SAF specifications, up to 100 per cent,” said Pratt & Whitney Chief Sustainability Officer Graham Webb.

“This in-flight demonstration on an Emirates A380 continues to build momentum towards establishing future standards for 100% SAF, which will help maximize the potential lifecycle emissions reduction for all commercial aircraft flying in the decades ahead.”

Jonathan Wood, vice president of commercial management and business development from the renewable aviation business at Neste, said they’re working closely with partners to accelerate the availability and use of SAF and look forward to growing the supply of SAF to Dubai.

Earlier this year, Emirates completed the first 100 per cent SAF-powered demonstration flight in the region on a GE90-powered Boeing 777-300ER.

Last month, the first Emirates flights operating with SAF provided by Shell Aviation took off from Dubai International Airport (DXB). Shell supplied 315,000 gallons of blended SAF for use at the airline’s hub in Dubai.


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