Etihad Airways has officially completed the world’s most intensive sustainable flight-testing programme by running 42 environmentally-friendly flights over a period of 5 days. 

The carrier used its new Airbus A350 – also known as the Sustainable50.

Testing…one, two, three…

As previously reported by Travel Radar, the UAE flag carrier has been committed to improving its business model’s sustainability. Projects like the Boeing Greenliner and Airbus A350 – known as the Sustainable50 – will help the carrier meet its goals.  

The carrier announced plans for this test during Earth Day on 22 April. 

The flight-testing programme allowed Etihad to test and analyse various operational efficiencies, technology, and procedures that will help reduce carbon emissions on flights. 

Etihad Airways’ latest aircraft, the Sustainable50, is expected to enter service this quarter. A “world-beating product”, the A350 was the aircraft used for the tests and was the first-ever A350 to operate as an ‘eco-flight’. The carrier also owns the Boeing Greenlander – a modified Boeing 787. 

Airbus Sustainable50 and Boeing Greenliner
The Boeing Greenliner and the Airbus A350 (Sustainable50) are crucial parts of Etihad’s sustainability project. | © Etihad Airways

The pilots flew the Sustainable50 on carefully planned flight paths that had been coordinated by Etihad with air navigation service providers to help construct direct routing and optimised descents, making them more efficient as a result. 

Using variable speeds whilst cruising to save fuel and reducing reliance on flaps when landing on sufficiently long runways were other efficiency-seeking routines that were explored during the 5 days of testing. Reducing reliance on flaps when landing on long runways can, for example, cut down drag and reduce engine taxiing. This would cut CO2 emissions by up to 40%.  

Chief executive of the Etihad Aviation Group, Tony Douglas, was in high spirits post-testing:

“We believe this is the most intensive sustainability flight-testing programme ever conducted, the results of which will contribute to reducing aviation’s carbon emissions and environmental impact as the learnings are implemented into standard airline operations across the industry.”

Douglas also spoke about the importance of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) in eco-flight operations. Etihad has called for industry and regulatory responses to make SAF more readily available. The main issue with SAF is that it is up to six times more expensive than the current jet fuel. Douglas said:

“This challenge needs policy changes from governments, continued R&D, supply chain enhancements, and refining improvements.”

All the data gathered by Etihad during the week of testing will be analysed and increase the Abu Dhabi-based carrier’s knowledge about sustainable flying. It is hopeful that the lessons learned and new knowledge obtained will help the aviation industry as a whole become more sustainable. 

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