Emirates airline will pump the $200 million over three years, identifying projects that could help push sustainability by the airline industry. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Dubai: Emirates is committing $200 million to fund research and development (R&D) projects that would help reduce the impact of fossil fuels used in commercial aviation.

This is the ‘biggest single commitment by any airline on sustainability’, and the funds to be disbursed over 3 years. The Dubai airline will strike partnerships with leading organisations working on solutions in advanced fuel and energy technologies.

According to Sir Tim Clark, President of Emirates airline, "We are ring-fencing $200 million to invest in advanced fuel and energy solutions for aviation, which is where airlines currently face the biggest impediment in reducing our environmental impact.

"We looked long and hard at the reality we face in commercial aircraft and engine technology, fuel supply chain, and our industry’s regulatory and eco-system requirements. It’s clear that with the current pathways available to airlines in terms of emissions reduction, our industry won’t be able to hit net zero targets in the prescribed timeline.”

Read More

Speed things up

UAE airlines have been pushing the sustainability fuel theme, and for which traction could build up down the line. Emirates, on its part, wants to speed up things.

"Until viable solutions can be found, Emirates will continue to implement environmentally responsible practices throughout our business, including uplifting SAF (Sustainable Aviation Fuel) where feasible, ensuring efficient fleet operations, and inducting modern aircraft into our fleet,” said Clark.

“Our $200 million fund is earmarked for R&D, and not for operating costs like the purchase of SAF or carbon offsets to tick regulatory boxes - activities we consider business as usual."

The airline's Environmental Sustainability Executive Steering Group will oversee disbursements from the fund, with support from technical experts.

Last January, Emirates completed a 100 per cent SAF-powered demonstration flight along with Boeing and GE. Since its first flight powered using the alt-fuel in 2017, the 'airline continues to participate actively in the SAF market and seek opportunities in its network to use SAF where feasible'.

Limited supply

Bio-based SAF - currently the only commercially available SAF - is 'extremely limited in supply'. IATA estimates the entire world’s annual supply of SAF meets less than 0.1 per cent of airlines’ needs.

"We believe our industry needs better solutions, and that’s why we’re looking to partner with leading organisations on R&D," said Clark. "Our aim is to contribute meaningfully to practical solutions for the long-term sustainability of commercial aviation."

Emirates' ongoing fuel efficiency program investigates and implements ways to reduce unnecessary fuel burn and emissions, wherever operationally feasible. These include: 

  1. The operation of 'flex tracks' or flexible routings where it partners with air navigation service providers to create the most efficient flight plan for each flight. It takes advantage of natural tailwinds, while avoiding headwinds and weather systems. These have been ongoing since 2003, and Emirates has been working with IATA to extend this routing system across the world as a standard operating procedure where possible.
  2. Bring in fuel efficient practices while the aircraft is on the ground, such as the use of ground power units instead of the aircraft Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) and switching one or two engines off while taxiing in after landing.