An Emirates A380 being loaded with sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). The UAE's aviation sector is leading the way in sustainable transformation as the on-going Dubai Airshow 2023 homes in on SAF. Image Credit: Supplied | DMO

Sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) is driving a "paradigm shift" in the way commercial airlines could help tackle climate change, and is seen as a herald for a new era for civil aviation.

At the on-going Dubai Airshow 2023, the liquid fuel currently used in commercial planes, is seen as the "next big thing" in flying, says an industry report.

Its key advantages: SAF helps remarkably cut CO2 emissions and can be used without modifying existing storage and refuelling infrastructure, aircraft, or engines.

According to the International Association of Air Travel (IATA), the global aviation industry uses approximately 278 billion litres of jet fuel annually.

The fuel bill of airlines is estimated to hit $215 billion this (2023). The fuel tab accounted for almost 30 per cent of operating expenses in 2022, according to the industry group. Thus, switching to a more sustainable jet fuel alternative can have a hugely positive impact on the planet.

$ 215 b

global airline industry's fuel bill for 2023 (as per IATA)

Limited Supply

Currently, SAF stands out as the optimal solution for airlines: it helps cut greenhouse gas emissions from airlines by up to 80 per cent compared to traditional fossil aviation fuels, according to IATA.

Despite global efforts to increase SAF production capacity, the supply remains limited, meeting only a fraction of the industry's demand.

Emirates, flydubai, Etihad, Masdar 

Dubai has emerged as a frontrunner in advancing SAF adoption, as Emirates Airline, the world's largest operator of wide-body aircraft, lowcost carrier flydubaiand Abu Dhabi-based Etihad, taking a pioneering role.

Image Credit: Supplied | DMO

Conducting successful demonstration flights since 2017, Emirates has escalated its commitment, operating its first 100 per cent SAF-powered Boeing 777-300ER in January 2023.

The airline's efforts culminated in the launch of a $200 million Aviation Sustainability Research and Development Fund, dedicated to advancing fuel technology.

Key collaborations, including partnerships with Shell Aviation and Neste, underscore Emirates' dedication to accelerating SAF adoption.

Emirates's pursuit of sustainable practices extends to governmental working groups, roadmap development for alternative fuel pathways, and contributions to national sustainability initiatives.

A view of the Dubai International Airport (DXB).

Flydubai, another prominent Dubai-based airline, is also actively exploring SAF integration to reduce its environmental impact, aligning with the government's sustainability goals.


Innovation in harnessing renewable energy is part of the mix.

Etihad, part of the Abu Dhabi Hydrogen Alliance, aims is to establish Abu Dhabi as a trusted leader of green hydrogen. This will help cut carbon emissions in both the UAE and wider world. Etihad is currently working on using this green hydrogen – the electrolysis of water through solar energy – to produce synthetic kerosene (SK) for the airline's SAFs.

This demonstrates the airline's commitment to curb carbon emissions in the aviation industry, with a goal to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. Alongside the A350, and heading its “Greenliner" programme is the Boeing 787, a pioneer in sustainable flying. Its 25 per cent reduction in fuel burn is in part thanks to its engine, but also the unique wing-design not commonly seen on commercial aircraft.

These wings can flex, minimising turbulence by increasing aerial stability and resulting in less drag, increasing fuel efficiency.

Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways, a leading green aviation advocate, has secured the Environmental Airline of the Year 2023 award for the second consecutive year, reaffirming its commitment to sustainability.

The Boeing 787 offers incredible vistas from inside the cabin, with windows that are 30 per cent bigger than on other aircraft, allowing for more natural light. Due to the electrochromic glass passengers can also adjust their window with 5 stages of colour, from dark to light.

Earlier this year, Abu Dhabi-based clean energy Masdar announced a green hydrogen initiative to produce SAF, and is working with licensors to produce it from methanol.

Masdar's deal with Airbus

In May, Masdar signed an agreement with Airbus to boost SAF development and growth. Under the agreement, the two companies are to collaborate to develop SAF, as well as green hydrogen, direct air capture technologies.

The deal also supports the development and implementation of "book and claim” solutions, which allow aircraft operators to book SAF for aircraft at other locations rather than have it transported to sites.

Direct Air Capture technologies, which differ from the more widely known carbon capture as they involve removing CO2 from the atmosphere rather than capturing it before it is released, could, in combination with hydrogen be used to produce synthetic SAF, Masdar said.

Masdar's deal with Boeing

In October Masdar announced its collaboration with US planemaker Boeing Co to propel the SAF industry in the UAE and globally.

Ahead of the UAE-hosted UN climate change conference, COP28,the agreement demonstrates Masdar’s and Boeing’s commitment to leveraging global partnerships to support the commercial aviation industry’s goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.

This makes Masdar one of the world’s largest renewable energy companies and a global leader in green hydrogen and SAF.

Cutting greenhouse gas emissions from aviation

With the best technology in renewables, the use of SAF based on green hydrogen and direct air capture is estimated to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 95 per cent when compared to conventional jet fuel.

$ 131 b

estimate size of SAF market by 2033

The SAF market is on track to be worth $131.12 billion by 2033, a more than a 100-fold increase from $1.29 billion in 2023, according to a new report from Ireland's Research and Markets. The increase will correspond to a compound annual growth rate of 58.78 per cent.


Beyond airlines, Dubai Airports has demonstrated its commitment to sustainability by implementing energy-efficient measures, such as LED lighting and eco-friendly ground service vehicles. The operator's waste management initiatives, aiming to divert 60% of waste from landfills, further highlight its dedication to reducing environmental impact.

Dubai Aerospace Enterprise (DAE) has maintained its leadership in sustainability, achieving an impressive ESG Risk Rating of 14.4. Through voluntary disclosures and participation in global sustainability assessments, DAE exemplifies the industry's commitment to transparency and accountability.

As global aviation pursues net-zero emissions by 2050, the UAE's aviation sector stands as a beacon of hope. The country's openness provides a platform for collaboration, innovatiion, and eco-conscious approach, highlighted at the Dubai Airshow 2023. It charts a precedent for the aviation industry's journey toward a more sustainable future.