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Etihad Airways, World Energy collaborate on net-zero emissions flight to COP27


Photo: Etihad Airways

Etihad Airways, the national carrier of the United Arab Emirates, has partnered with World Energy to operate the first net-zero flight powered entirely by sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) book and claim, delivering delegates to COP27 with net-zero emissions.

The airline will operate its Washington Dulles (U.S.) to Abu Dhabi (UAE) service, routed via COP27 venue Sharm-El-Sheik, Egypt, to demonstrate the only feasible path to net-zero commercial aviation using current technology, while showcasing the challenges and opportunities of SAF.

Operated on Etihad’s Boeing 787 “Greenliner,” the flight will leverage SAF book-and-claim systems in partnership with World Energy to overcome SAF logistical and infrastructure challenges.

“This initiative is about proving net-zero commercial aviation is possible, but equally facing up to the significant logistical challenges the industry faces to turn the possible into the routine,” said Mariam Alqubaisi, head of sustainability and business excellence at Etihad Airways. “Etihad endeavors to make good on the rigorous commitment towards sustainable aviation through the Greenliner program in partnership with Boeing, GE and other aviation leaders in 2020, followed by the addition of the Sustainabile50 program in partnership with Airbus and Rolls-Royce, coupled with our commitment to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 and halving our net emission levels by 2035.”

Alqubaisi continued, saying, “Through these programs, we have run a series of ecoFlights over the past two years to test and validate several concepts, and we have made refining and implementing sustainability initiatives an intrinsic part of our day-to-day operation. The net-zero flight is the next logical step after our EY20 operation from London Heathrow to Abu Dhabi in October last year, where we reduced emissions by 72 percent compared to the same flight in 2019. This isn’t about solving only Etihad’s emissions, but about supporting the entire industry to address the biggest challenge we face over the next three decades.”

Gene Gebolys, CEO of World Energy, added, “Aviation is how the world connects but we are on a collision course as flying people and goods is one of the most carbon-intensive things humans do. Aviation is on an unsustainable trajectory as it is projected to continue to account for an ever-greater share of global carbon emissions. But there is a way off this course. The course correction will come from the fuel tank rather than the cockpit. Together, we can efficiently change the fuel we fly on so we can change the impact of flying. We are grateful to corporate leaders like Etihad who are paving the way to help make net-zero aviation a reality.”

Enabling delegates to travel 10,000 kilometers (6,214 miles) emission-free to COP27, Etihad will buy (or book) SAF for the flight provided by fueling partner World Energy. However, the flight will use conventional Jet-A1 fuel, and the physical SAF that Etihad has purchased will be delivered into the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) fuel system and used on flights by other airlines out of that airport. LAX has the infrastructure in place to take delivery of and distribute World Energy’s SAF. This is known as a book-and-claim system and is the preferred model for SAF use and distribution advocated for by the aviation and energy industries as a stopgap solution to make SAF available for global aviation until infrastructure requirements can catch up. Book and claim includes transactions scrupulously verified by third parties that comply with the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials guidance.

Guests onboard the flight will not be charged any extra premium for their fare, but preparing a net-zero flight without charging each passenger and cargo shipment a surcharge is a challenge given that the cost to produce SAF is four times higher than JetA1.

The extra costs will be mitigated by several sources, including government subsidies reducing the SAF cost by 50 percent, the Corporate Conscious Choice program contributing 28 percent, and the Etihad Guest Raffle providing 22 percent. A final 10 percent to partially offset additional operational and handling costs will be generated from tokenizing and trading CO2e-avoidance credits, possible due to this being the first transatlantic flight actively managing non-CO2 effects through contrail-avoidance prediction and flight planning.

The net-zero flight will be the latest in a series of “EcoFlight” tests since Etihad launched its Greenliner program in 2020, each one testing and proving a series of concepts.

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