Spring 2020

Etihad boosts its green credentials at Brussels

Etihad Airways recently operated what it describes as an ‘eco-flight’ to Brussels Airport as it continues to step up its efforts to ‘go green’. The Belgian gateway is also making strides in this regard

The eco-flight from Abu Dhabi to Brussels took place in January and was intended to demonstrate a range of initiatives that are part of Etihad’s commitment to sustainable practices both in the air and on the ground.

A B787 ‘Dreamliner’ of the UAE’s flag-carrier flew between the two capitals. Etihad points out that the 787 is the newest and most efficient aircraft model in its fleet, one – it claims – that consumes at least 15% less fuel than any aircraft type the airline has previously flown.

Furthermore, the aircraft followed an “optimised flight route” facilitated by the European air navigation service provider Eurocontrol to help reduce fuel consumption and carbon emissions.

The group CEO of Etihad Aviation Group, Tony Douglas, comments: “Sustainable practice is a critical and continuing challenge for the air transport industry, which is striving to reduce carbon emissions and waste, while meeting soaring demand for air travel.”

He continues: “This year’s national theme of the United Arab Emirates is ‘2020: Towards The Next 50’. Etihad is committed to working continuously with a range of partners as part of a broader national focus on environmental sustainability.”

As part of its Etihad Greenliner Program, the airline’s fleet of 787s will be used as flying testbeds for a range of sustainability initiatives, with Boeing joining Etihad as a partner in the research.

Etihad is also playing its role in the development of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), discussed in more depth elsewhere in this issue (cf, Air BP looks to the future with sustainable fuels). It is co-operating with fuel providers including Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) as well as Tadweer (Abu Dhabi Waste Management Centre) on future fuel options.

On the ramp

The carbon footprint of airside operations that supported the eco-flight was not forgotten. In Abu Dhabi, electric tractors were involved in the transport of freight and baggage between the terminal and the aircraft. Etihad recently took delivery of the first 10 of 94 such electric vehicles, which will all be introduced into service before the end of this year.

Ground power was used at both Abu Dhabi and Brussels to avoid running the aircraft’s own fuel-powered auxiliary unit, while taxi time from the Abu Dhabi terminal to the runway is said to have been “expedited” in order to minimise the holding time with engines running.

Soon after the eco-flight, Etihad committed to a minimum target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and to halving its 2019 net emission levels by 2035.

According to a statement, these targets will be achieved through a “mix of internal initiatives, collaboration with industry partners and adoption of a comprehensive programme of relevant carbon offsets, to be developed with specific focus on the requirements of the UAE and markets served by the airline”.

The airport viewpoint

While airlines such as Etihad are looking to their environmental footprint, so too are gateways like Brussels Airport. It has launched its own ‘green’ initiatives, including using electric buses for passenger transport and compressed natural gas for its own airport vehicles. First introduced in 2018, the airport now has a fleet of 30 quiet and emission-free fully electric buses.

Brussels Airport Company (BAC) is also exploring options such as the use of electric GSE for aircraft pushback, and the airport operator strongly promotes the use of 400HZ ground power units (GPUs) and pre-conditioned air units (PCAs) to serve aircraft while they are on-stand.

Meanwhile, service vehicles and company car fleets operated by BAC are gradually being replaced by compressed natural gas (CNG) and electric-powered models.

Caroline Bossuyt, compliance expert at Brussels Airport Company (BAC), recalls that BAC had a preparatory meeting with Etihad in order to discuss opportunities for collaboration as regards January’s eco-flight.

Although it was decided not to organise a separate media event or specific actions by BAC to promote the occasion, it nonetheless reflected the “collaboration and shared striving by BAC and airlines for minimising their environmental impact”, she says. As part of the airport operator’s Sustainability Strategy, which looks to ensure “sustainable and balanced development of the airport”, BAC has the specified objective of operating with net-zero carbon emissions, Bossuyt points out, while also looking to create less waste and undertake more recycling.

Aiming to be ‘climate neutral’, the airport offsets its CO2 emissions. On the Airports Council International (ACI) scale of Airport Carbon Accreditation, Brussels Airport boasts a level 3+ (neutrality) score.

Besides the greener buses and GSE being introduced, as with the recent eco-flight aircraft taxi times are more generally kept to an absolute minimum at Brussels, Bossuyt observes. Aircraft only leave their gate if a timely take-off can be guaranteed and sufficient capacity for landing is available at the destination.

Plus, the airport operator strongly recommends SETI (single engine taxi in).

BAC also promotes fleet renewal among its visiting carriers to include greener aircraft types through differentiated tariff structures, based on environmental criteria of noise and emissions.

With regard to waste, BAC has initiated a ‘Waste Charter’, together with packaging management specialist Fost Plus and various airport partners. ‘Action programmes’ with the aim of reducing waste and upping the rate of recycling at the gateway are now being developed, it confirms.

Finally, BAC is working with scientists to apply innovative technologies to reduce Ultra Fine Particle (UFP) levels at the airport and – together with the European Union and a number of airport partners – is investigating the options of sustainable fuel at Brussels.

As a result of its efforts brought together within its Sustainability Strategy, BAC hopes to operate with net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.