Dubai carrier Emirates took a step closer to its first flight using sustainable aviation fuel on Monday after it successfully completed a ground engine testing.
One of the GE90 engines on a Boeing 777-300ER used 100 per cent sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) while the other ran on regular fuel as the airline analysed if the engine can run on specially blended 100 per cent SAF without affecting its performance, requiring no modifications to the aircraft systems, or special maintenance procedures on the aircraft or the engine. SAF reduces carbon emissions over the fuel’s life cycle by up to 80 per cent.
The test results will now pave the way for the airline’s first experimental test flight using 100 per cent SAF in one engine, which is due for take-off this week. The testing of two engines running on two types of fuel will help better analyse the fuel system´s behaviour and performance under each fuel type, compare specific outputs of each engine, and ensure seamless operation of the aircraft’s engine and airframe fuel systems during the planned test flight.
During the ground testing, the aircraft first went through its standard pre-inspection activities. After that, the stationary operating testing began by first running the Honeywell 331-500 auxiliary power unit (APU) on 100 per cent SAF. The APU was then put under full load with SAF to start the engines. The left engine was exercised through its full power range, utilising the same settings that will be used for the experimental flight. This included idle, ‘take-off’ and ‘climb settings’ at full flight profile durations, running at maximum speed and intensity. Engines were then run at ‘cruise’ settings for 15 minutes. After the simulation ended, the engines were cooled down. Fuels were isolated in separate fuel tanks to maintain segregation of test fuels. Upon completion of the ground test, engine data was downloaded for review, comparison, and analysis.
Last year, Emirates, GE Aerospace and Boeing signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to develop a programme for conducting a test flight using 100 per cent SAF on an Emirates 777-300ER powered by GE90 engines.
Emirates has been working with GE Aerospace, Boeing, Honeywell, Neste and Virent throughout 2022 on SAF fuel blend testing. The partners have developed a blend with the same qualities and performance characteristics of conventional jet fuel and have collaborated on the technical analysis and operational requirements surrounding ground testing and experimental flight activities. The results of this initiative will provide additional data and research around synthetic fuel blend components and biofuels, supporting standardisation and future approval of 100 per cent drop-in SAF.
Following the successful trial on one engine, Emirates will then continue to develop these initiatives with the engine airframe manufacturers as well as SAF providers with the goal of certifying these blends for commercial use. Currently, SAF is approved for use in blends of up to 50 per cent with conventional jet fuel.
Its first flight powered by SAF blended with jet fuel was in 2017, operating from Chicago O’Hare airport on a Boeing 777. Emirates received its first A380 powered by SAF in December 2020, and uplifted 32 tonnes of SAF for its flights from Stockholm earlier that year.
Emirates expands Australia service
Emirates also announced that it is increasing its service to two Australian cities - Sydney and Melbourne. The airline will also restart services to Christchurch, New Zealand via Sydney.
From March 26, Melbourne will increase from two to three daily services between Emirates’ Dubai hub via Singapore, with a third direct service to also begin to Sydney from May 1. The service increase follows the airline’s recent announcement around double daily flights to Brisbane, starting from June 1. The two services will operate on a three-class Boeing-777 300ER.
By mid-year, Emirates will be operating 63 weekly services to Australia with the capacity to transport more than 55,000 passengers per week to and from its major cities.
Emirates has been serving Australia for more than 25 years.
Masdar, ADNOC, bp, Tadweer (Abu Dhabi Waste Management Company) and Etihad Airways announced at Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week 2023 an agreement to conduct a joint feasibility study on exploring the production of SAF and other products such as renewable diesel and naphtha, using municipal solid waste (MSW) and renewable hydrogen, in the UAE.
The study will leverage the capabilities of the five partners to evaluate the technical and commercial viability of such a project. If the study’s conclusions are positive, the partners will target working toward developing the region’s first commercial-scale production capacity in Abu Dhabi.
Aviation is a key industry in the UAE, supporting over 13 per cent of the national gross domestic product according to IATA economic data, and is set to continue to grow in the next decades.
Etihad’s green journey
Abu Dhabi’s Etihad, too, has been taking leaps in sustainable flying. It unveiled its new Airbus A350-1000 on a special commercial flight from Abu Dhabi to Paris in March last year. The aircraft was the first A350 to be operated by a UAE airline. The aircraft, named Sustainability50, powered by Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engines, is one of the most efficient aircraft types in the world, with 25 per cent less fuel burn and CO2 emissions than previous-generation twin aisle aircraft.
In April, the airline announced that it will undertake a week of intensive research and testing on over 30 flights to test operational efficiencies, technology and procedures that will reduce carbon emissions.
The programme tested contrail avoidance technologies in partnership with SATAVIA, a UK-based green aerospace company. By May, Etihad had successfully performed the world’s most intensive sustainable flight testing programme, operating 42 flights in its quest for lower carbon emissions. It also included 22 contrail prevention flights.
In July, Etihad’s Airbus A350-1000 touched down in New York. In the same month, Etihad was named ‘Environmental Airline of the Year 2022’ in the annual Airline Ratings awards.
In November, the first Etihad flight to use SAF supplied by ITOCHU Corporation and Neste took off from Tokyo Narita airport, making Etihad the first international airline to procure SAF in Japan.
The flight operated on around a 40 per cent blend of SAF, representing the first delivery of some 50,000 gallons of the special fuel. It was also first time a non-Japanese airline used SAF supplied in Japan.