Etihad operates Gulf’s first biofuel flight

Etihad operates Gulf’s first biofuel flight

Etihad Airways’ flight from Seattle to Abu Dhabi – the delivery flight of the airline’s newest Boeing 777-300ER that arrived on January 24 – was the first in the Gulf to be operated using sustainable biofuel.

The 14 hour delivery flight of the airline’s newest and most efficient long haul aircraft was operated using a combination of traditional jet fuel and plant-based jet fuel, which is fully certified for use as commercial jet fuel.

James Hogan, Etihad Airways’ President and Chief Executive Officer, said: “This flight marks a significant milestone in our efforts to support and drive the commercialisation of sustainable aviation fuel in Abu Dhabi, the region, and globally.

“However, the use of a presently available biofuel is just one part of a more comprehensive long-term biofuel strategy to ensure that we are able to use biofuels to decarbonise substantially an entire industry sector in the long term.” 

SkyNRG, an Amsterdam-based sustainable jet fuel provider, supplied the fuel, which is based on recycled vegetable cooking oil. As a plant-based source that has been used already for cooking purposes, it qualifies as a bio-based waste stream with a high sustainability value.

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Dirk Kronemeijer, SkyNRG’s Managing Director, said: “We think the Middle East has great potential to give a critical boost towards making a market for sustainable jet fuel that is affordable.  With this flight Etihad Airways has taken a fantastic step, particularly in increasing awareness within the region. There is a lot more to come in this continent and we are determined to be there when that happens.” 

Boeing also supported this initiative by supplying their ‘fly-away’ fuel, provided for every new delivery, as a biofuel blend.

Sustainability is a key aspect of the biofuel production process. Etihad Airways, as a member of the global Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group, has committed to a stringent set of sustainability principles when looking at opportunities for biofuel development and use. This includes ensuring that feedstock is non-competitive with food sources and does not jeopardise drinking water supplies.

As part of this commitment and in helping to drive the development of potential feedstock in Abu Dhabi, Etihad Airways is also one of the founding members of the Masdar Institute’s Sustainable Bioenergy Research Consortium (SBRC) in Abu Dhabi. This innovative five-year program, backed by over USD 2 million of financial and other support from the airline, supports research into the use of salt water tolerant plants as the basis for alternative aviation fuels.

With new regulations now being imposed on aviation carbon emissions, the commercial viability of biofuel is gaining even more importance. Starting this year, the EU emissions trading scheme (ETS) will require all airlines to pay for emissions and this is likely to lead to other such schemes around the world. Biofuel is considered ‘carbon neutral’ as the plant biomass takes in carbon as it grows and releases it again during the combustion process, and this means that the use of biofuel as part of the EU ETS would be considered exempt.