UAE airlines flying high in race to safeguard environment

Picture only for illustrative purpose (REUTERS)

UAE airlines Emirates, flydubai and Etihad are all in the forefront of efforts to safeguard the environment, according to senior officials.

The civil aviation sector as a whole places a special emphasis on the issues of climate change and global warming through the manufacture and purchase of environment-friendly and fuel-efficient aircraft.

Other measures include the use of shorter navigation tracks and joining the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group (Safug) to speed up procedures for carbon trading. Membership obliges airlines to stick to a maximum limit for carbon emissions.

The aviation sector has taken these steps even though the amount of greenhouse gas emissions it produces does not exceed two per cent of the total generated around the world.

Emirates became a pioneer in the launch of green initiatives when it started implementing an environmental programme.

It plans to purchase and operate 58 Airbus A380 aircraft, which is regarded as the most highly developed commercial plane in terms of reduced environmental impact. Last year it began operating the double-decker super-jumbo on services to Australia and New Zealand.

Emirates chose the A380 because of its fuel-efficiency – its consumption is 20 per cent lower per seat compared with other large planes.

In addition the European-built superjumbo consumes just 3.1 litres of fuel to carry 100 passengers 1km – a rate that is better than the consumption of most normal cars. The A380 produces 75 grammes of carbon dioxide to carry each passenger 1km – half the target European rate for cars manufactured in 2008.

Emirates' green efforts are not restricted to the use of more efficient planes – the carrier also organises joint initiatives with governments, aircraft manufacturers and other airlines with a view to reaching the highest level of environmental efficiency.

The carrier has launched many green and environment-friendly services as part of a programme that determines the most environment-friendly routes for direct trips. This saves 2,000 gallons of fuel and 30,000 pounds of carbon emissions per trip. An example is the service to San Francisco – the first that passes over the North Pole.

The European Union (EU) has announced a plan that will require airlines to adhere to a maximum level of emissions by 2012. Emirates set up a team, with senior members drawn from a number of departments, to prepare the carrier's response to this initiative. The team comprises top officials from the Trips Operations Department, Planning Department, Engineering Department, Finance Department, Legal Department, IT Department and Environmental Affairs Department.

Emirates said in a statement that it was one of many carriers that were attempting to limit emissions in line with the EU plan. On the day the plan was announced it started making its plans so that it would be fully ready when the new requirements came into effect.

"Emirates has invested billions of dollars to purchase modern aircraft with high environmental efficiency," said Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, Chairman and CEO of the Emirates Group and Chairman of Dubai Airports. "That will enhance the group's record of improving environmental performance."

Andre Parker, Senior Vice-President for Public, Industry, International Environment Affairs, said: "By virtue of a confirmed order of 58 A380 aircraft – 30 per cent of the total orders for this model received by Airbus – Emirates has become the largest customer for this environment-friendly plane. Seven A380s have joined the carrier's fleet so far.

"The noise levels of the A380 are in line with the three-level standards which are approved by the EU and the four-level standards which are expected to be applied in 2012."

The use of huge aircraft such as the A380 means fewer take-off and landing operations are necessary compared with the number required when smaller planes are used by airlines – the operation of one trip by an A380 is equal to the operation of three by an A320.

Parker said Emirates' fleet – which currently contains 117 aircraft – was regarded as the most modern in the industry at the global level. The average age of in-service aircraft was 67 months.

"The carrier continues to take important steps in terms of the environmental aspects of its operations through the purchase of environment-friendly aircraft," he added.

Flydubai, the first economy carrier in Dubai, was set up in 2008 and is heavily involved in tackling global warming through initiatives to limit harmful emissions by its aircraft.

The carrier uses Boeing 737-800 NG planes that have specially designed wingtips that reduce friction and improve performance during take-off. This reduces the carrier's and cuts total fuel consumption by four per cent.

The design reduces the amount of power needed to take off by three per cent, and the improved efficiency enables flydubai to save between 75,000 and 125,000 gallons of fuel per plane annually. This not only reduces energy costs but also extends the operational life of the engines and cuts maintenance costs.

The fuel savings naturally have a positive effect on the environment, reducing nitrogen oxide emissions by five per cent for each plane and carbon emissions by four per cent over the aircraft's operational lifetime.

Flydubai CEO Gaith Al Gaith said: "The Boeing 737-800 is regarded as an outstanding plane by all standards. Its ability to enhance fuel efficiency means it is able to increase flight times.

"Since its flights last four-and-a-half hours at the most, the plane's performance characteristics not only enable us to reach the largest number of potential customers but also reduces the carbon emissions that result from the trips.

"In addition, the plane's wings are designed to reduce the amount of thrust required during take-off, which helps reduce noise by 6.5 per cent. That makes the plane used by flydubai an attractive choice for both the environment and human beings."

Meanwhile, Etihad Airways recently announced it had joined Safug, which was set up in 2008 to speed up carbon trading initiatives and improve the sustainability of the aviation sector.

James Hogan, the carrier's CEO, said: "Etihad realises the need to introduce changes to reduce the aviation industry's dependence on fossil fuel and meet the goals of the sector regarding the reduction of carbon emissions."

He said this alternative approach should be acceptable morally, socially and environmentally while not affecting the sustainability and future of the sector.

Abu Dhabi, the carrier's home emirate, has already shown a strong commitment to sustainable development and renewable energy through the launch of the zero-emission Masdar City, which is due to host the headquarters of International Renewable Energy Agency.

Safug imposes strict standards to improve the use of non-fossil fuel, including the implementation of plant sources in a way that does not have a detrimental impact on food sources or endanger supplies of drinking water.

The impact of the EU's 2012 initiative will be felt by airlines across the region.

Mohammed Al Abbadi, EgyptAir's Regional Manager for Dubai and the Northern Emirates, said: "The Kyoto Protocol, as the most prominent global move towards curbing greenhouse gas emissions, does not cover international aviation due to the difficulty of allocating emissions to a given country. Therefore air transport has been exempt from any binding emissions reduction limits to date.

"Under Kyoto, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) was tasked with developing a framework for developed countries to pursue the limitation or reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from international aviation.

"Consequently, EgyptAir will not be affected in a great way, except after 2012 in the EU countries, as this situation led to the EU deciding to take the initiative and act alone to include air transport in its emission trading scheme starting from 2012. The new regulations will be applied to all flights landing in or departing from its member-states.

"This also will add to the cost structure of the airlines, especially in these hard times, but EgyptAir, as an international airline, has to abide by all regulations in this respect and we have the expertise and the resources needed to fulfill the environmental requirements.

"The EU scheme grants 85 per cent of a carrier's total emissions for free, and the remainder have to be bought. To decide whether the 85 per cent will be enough for EgyptAir's European flights, or whether we will have to buy additional carbon units, we will have to wait to see how the scheme performs in Europe in 2010.

"Depending on the performance in 2010, we will be able to decide if we will have to raise ticket prices or can follow another strategy to deal with this situation."

Al Abbadi said EgyptAir was in the process of taking delivery of six new environment-friendly Boeing 777-300 aircraft that would reduce harmful emissions.

Emissions trading programme

The EU has decided to bring the civil aviation sector into its emissions trading programme from January 1, 2012.

The European Commission will set the maximum limit of gas emissions allowed for airlines during trips to and from EU countries. The commission will grant each airline 85 per cent of the value of its emissions for free. But each carrier will have to buy 15 per cent of the total value, either through the purchase of this percentage from other airlines that do not take up their full share or through the payment of charges agreed with the commission.

According to the decision, each airline should present a report on its emissions before March 31, 2011. There is a maximum limit of free emissions that should not be exceeded. This means the free emissions will not cover the operation of airlines' total trips to EU nations.

The EU's decision comes as response to the Kyoto Protocol which set a limit of emissions that should not be exceeded. The ICAO instructed each member-country to draw up a law covering emissions. This pushed the EU to make its decision without consulting international organisations in the industry.


A380 fuel efficient

The Airbus A380 is powered by the fuel-efficient Engine Alliance GP7270 turbofan, which can save more than 500,000 litres of fuel per plane each year. The superjumbo conforms to the emission standards set by the ICAO.

 

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