Etihad Airways undertakes tests for 30 flights to reduce carbon emissions

Etihad Airways recently undertook a week of intensive research and testing on over 30 flights to test operational efficiencies, technology and procedures that will reduce carbon emissions.

The week-long program, coincided with Earth Day on 22 April, included over 20 commercial flights operating across Etihad’s network to test contrail avoidance technologies in partnership with SATAVIA, a UK-based green aerospace company. The airline also operated up to 13 dedicated ‘EcoFlights’ testing a range of flight and engine optimization initiatives, with successful trials incorporated into regular scheduled operations. Each of these flight tests were operated on Etihad’s fleet of fuel-efficient A350 and 787 aircraft, spearheaded by the ‘Etihad Greenliner’ and Etihad’s newest aircraft, the ‘Sustainable 50’.

Tony Douglas, Group chief executive officer, Etihad Aviation Group, said: “Etihad has demonstrated its commitment to sustainability over the last three years, leading the industry through real world testing and application of technology and processes that provide incremental environmental benefit every time we fly. The tests conducted recently were just the latest initiatives in our long running and comprehensive sustainability program, because for us, sustainability is a priority every day, not just once a year when it’s convenient and expected. The results we developed added to the body of work and knowledge base we’ve built to support the aviation industry on its journey to decarbonization.”

The bulk of tests conducted over the week were part of a year-long partnership with SATAVIA to enable contrail prevention, integrating atmospheric modelling with operational flight planning to prevent contrail formation. Aircraft contrails, or condensation trails, are clouds made up of aircraft-generated ice crystals, which cause a net surface heating effect globally by trapping atmospheric heat. Contrails cause up to 60% of aviation’s total climate impact, the equivalent to two percent of all human impact.

Dr Adam Durant, CEO of SATAVIA, said, “Our understanding of contrails rests on decades of atmospheric science, which can now be combined with high-performance computer modelling to identify contrail formation zones and optimize flight plans for contrail prevention. Following these tests, we worked with Etihad to quantify the climate benefit arising from contrail prevention on a flight-by-flight basis. This laid the groundwork for future conversion into tradable carbon credits incentivizing widespread adoption of contrail prevention across the aviation sector.”

In contrast to many green aerospace initiatives, contrail prevention is a software solution that can be implemented in the near-term through technical integration with flight operations.

“By working with SATAVIA to implement contrail prevention in day-to-day activity, Etihad is taking the lead on an important issue facing the entire industry,” said Douglas. “We have to think about aviation’s indirect, non-CO2 effects as well as direct climate impacts, and contrail prevention is the key to making swift progress in this field.”

In addition to contrail avoidance R&D flight tests, Etihad operated up to 13 dedicated EcoFlights, following six previous sustainability focused operations since 2019, including the EY20 Sustainable Flight from London to Abu Dhabi in October last year, which reduced carbon emissions by 72% compared to a similar flight in 2019.

These flights further tested and trialed operational initiatives to evaluate and confirm learnings from past ecoFlights for flight path optimization, including optimized climb and continuous descent, optimal departure runway, last minute engine start-up, single engine taxi procedures network wide and fight deck technology solutions.