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Etihad CEO issues call to make aviation industry net zero

Etihad CEO Tony Douglas Etihad
Etihad CEO Tony Douglas
  • Abu Dhabi’s national airline aims to lead charge on slashing emissions
  • Net zero must be ‘at the very top of the agenda,’ says Tony Douglas
  • Etihad is first airline to join Cambridge’s Aviation Impact Accelerator

There is no “single bullet” to solve the climate crisis and airlines must work together to create a sustainable aviation sector, the CEO of Etihad Airways has told AGBI.

Tony Douglas, group chief executive officer, Etihad Aviation Group, said: “This is about industry – from the giants to the start-ups – governments, regulators and academics all putting net zero at the very top of the agenda. 

“We strongly encourage all airlines to join us.”

His comments followed the news last week that Etihad has become the first airline to join the Aviation Impact Accelerator (AIA), an international group of practitioners and academia convened by the University of Cambridge. 

Aviation is currently responsible for around 2.5 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. 

The Abu Dhabi-based airline joins Boeing and Rolls-Royce, who also announced their commitment to partner with AIA.

Both will accelerate their work towards net zero aviation and provide in-depth technical and policy expertise.

Andrew Charlton, managing director of Aviation Advocacy, an independent air transport focused strategic consulting and government affairs consultancy, said that while most carriers are “suddenly all over sustainability”, Etihad has been “on this road for a long time”.

“Etihad is totally committed to making the change because their leadership gets it. 

“If you watch Farnborough [air show] at the moment, every airline and his dog are suddenly all over sustainability. But Etihad rightly sees the issue as existential for aviation,” he said.

David Tarsh, founder of Tarsh Consulting, which provides strategic advice to the Energy and Environment Alliance, a new organisation established to help the hospitality sector reach net zero carbon, welcomed the AIA.

He said he expects companies in the Gulf region to continue to play a key role in tackling carbon emissions. 

“The pressure on companies in the travel industry to act sustainably is relentless and soon legislation will require it. 

“Carbon trading is valuable as a stop gap; but new technology is the key. 

“Given how important the energy industry has been and travel and tourism is becoming to Gulf countries, I would expect them to be leading investors in initiatives such as this,” he added.

Bradley Jones, executive director of the UAE-UK Business Council, agreed.

He described Etihad’s decision to join the AIA as “terrific,” adding it is a “great example” of how the UK and UAE is working together.

“The UK-UAE Partnership for The Future Agreement, signed in September last year, committed both countries to working together to address global challenges such as climate change. 

“The AIA is a great example of business and academia working together to build momentum on the transition to net zero. 

“This collaboration is something the Business Council will certainly be supporting in the run-up to CoP28 next year.”

Etihad’s partnership with the AIA is a result of years of research and development through its own sustainability programme. 

Greenliner, as it is called, is in partnership with Boeing and GE, and its newly launched Sustainable50 programme in partnership with Airbus and Rolls Royce.

The flagship initiative offers a platform for technical expertise and genuine real time innovation and new technology advancement.

Earlier this year, the airline published the Etihad Airways Sustainability Report  and Etihad was recently named Environmental Airline of the Year 2022 by Airline Ratings.

In its latest move, Etihad announced on Monday that it has signed on to Citi ADGM’s Sustainable Deposit Solution.

This will help the airline in investing excess cash as part of its sustainability agenda. 

Funds invested into the deposits are allocated to finance or refinance assets in a portfolio of eligible green and social finance projects.

Douglas added: “These programmes, in partnership with Boeing, GE, Airbus and Rolls Royce, will continue to go from strength to strength. 

“We joined the University of Cambridge’s AIA to provide in-depth technical expertise and build on academic and industrial synergies for the pursuit of net-zero.”

Charlton said that there are other issues pushing Etihad and Abu Dhabi to lead from the front on aviation sustainability.

“For the UAE, what happens if fossil fuels are marginalised? 

“What is the future for countries that have built their economy on oil? What does the future look like if England gets the UAE’s weather? 

“The UAE will be well placed if we go down the hydrogen road. To make green hydrogen you need lots of cheap energy and sea water,” he explained.

“Rather than asking why Abu Dhabi is so keen to address the issue, perhaps a better question is why the rest of the industry is only now starting to take this as seriously as Etihad has,” Charlton added.

The AIA announcement coincided with the UK’s launch of its Jet Zero strategy which commits the British domestic aviation sector to achieving net zero emissions by 2040.

It also requires all airports in England to be zero-emission by the same year.

The global push to make aviation more sustainable is slowly gathering pace.

Airbus and several major airlines – Air Canada, Air France-KLM, easyJet, International Airlines Group, Latam Airlines Group, Lufthansa Group and Virgin Atlantic are getting on board. 

They all signed letters of intent this month to explore opportunities for a future supply of carbon removal credits from direct air carbon capture technology.

EasyJet and Rolls-Royce last week also unveiled a partnership called H2Zero to develop jet engines powered by hydrogen. 

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