Flight EK2646 departed from DXB and flew over the emirate’s coastline for 42 minutes. Image Credit: Twitter/@HHAhmedBinSaeed

Dubai: As part of the global aviation industry’s push to meet carbon emission targets, Dubai’s flagship carrier Emirates is pinning its hopes to procure 50 per cent of its fuel supply from sustainable alternatives and renewable sources by 2030.

This comes after the airline successfully completed a demonstration flight using 100 per cent sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) in one of the two engines on a Boeing 777-300 ER wide-body aircraft on Monday. Test flight EK2646 departed from Dubai International Airport (DXB) and flew over the emirate’s coastline for 42 minutes, marking the first flight in the Mena region to be powered by 100 per cent SAF in one of the two engines.

Speaking to Gulf News at the sidelines of the event, Adel Al Redha, Chief Operating Officer at Emirates, said: “The biggest challenge the industry faces today is the availability of SAF and the delivery of the fuel at airports. Our aim (by 2030) is to have SAF run our fuel supply by 50 per cent.” The remaining 50 per cent would come from conventional jet fuel.

SAF is produced from sustainable feedstocks and is very similar in chemistry to traditional fossil jet fuel. Using SAF results in a reduction in carbon emissions compared to the conventional jet fuel.

SAF needs commitment

However, these ambitions can only be realised with commitment from all stakeholders – governments, SAF manufacturers, producers, and other airlines, said Al Redha. “The decision to shift our fuel supply to sustainable sources by 2030 is subject to regulatory approvals and commercial viability. But if this fuel can be made easily available and 50 per cent of our fuel supply comes from SAF, it would be a great achievement,” he added.

“This type of initiative will require oil manufacturers and producers to commit and deliver, including ones in the UAE and neighbouring countries,” he said.

Al Redha added: “However, SAF is a worldwide commitment and initiative. It cannot be localised in one area, and no company or airline can depend on one company for its fuel-related needs. The research and development and set-up costs are high in the beginning. However, we are willing to work with whoever delivers.”

‘Next test flight will involve two engines’

Emirates said it worked with GE Aerospace, Boeing, Honeywell, Finnish biofuel producer Neste and US-based renewable fuels company Virent to procure and develop a blend of SAF that replicates the properties of conventional jet fuel to run Monday’s test flight.

In the next step of the process, Al Redha said the airline would do an engine ground test and run a test flight using 100 per cent SAF on both engines of the passenger aircraft. These tests will also be run in collaboration with Boeing and GE Aerospace, confirmed Al Redha.

“This is a normal part of the process, which allows us to test the performance of both engines compared to conventional jet fuel,” he explained.

Al Redha said, depending on the second test results, Emirates will work with regulatory authorities to legalise the use of SAF. “Our next step would be to get necessary approvals from concerned regulatory authorities to legalise the use of SAF, based on the outcomes of our tests. But these are normal processes that we go through to adopt any new initiatives to be implemented on commercial aircraft,” explained Al Redha.

How much does SAF cost?

While the COO did not reveal any details of the costs Emirates incurred to run the test flight, Al Redha said: “We did not focus on the costs of this trial because our aim was (to understand) the technical aspect of it. We want to ensure the availability of the fuel, its uses, and it is doing the job that is expected to be done.”

He added, “Once we do that, then we will start discussing with the producers and the manufacturers on how to make such fuel available in Dubai in higher quantities and the delivery costs of such fuel.”

In the US, SAF costs, on average, $9.23 per gallon as of earlier this month, according to aviation data site Global Air. Standard kerosene-based jet fuel sits at an average of $7.03 per gallon. For the Monday test flight, Emirates worked with Emirates National Oil Company (Enoc) in Dubai. “We have imported the fuel from Finland and the US as these are the countries who were able to support us and provide us with the quantity required for the test flight,” he said.