Etihad And Boeing Launch Sustainable Dreamliner Test Flights

Etihad Airways is teaming up with Boeing to use a brand new 787-10 Dreamliner to test various methods of sustainable flying.

This was announced on the first day of FIA Connect, whichis the virtual event replacing the Farnborough International Airshow 2020, which was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The move highlights Etihad’s commitment to sustainable flight, something that the UAE’s national airline does not intend to renege on, despite the Covid-19 crisis.This is the seventh iteration of Boeing’s ecoDemonstrator programme, which uses commercial aircraft to test innovative technologies in the air.

Etihad will be working with Boeing to use the jet as a test bed for technologies that can help reduce fuel consumption, noise pollution and CO2 emissions. It’s the next step in a strategic partnership that the two companies first announced at the Dubai Airshow last year, in a bid to improve airspace efficiency, reduce fuel use and cut aviation CO2 emissions as the newest Dreamliner goes into service.

The 2020 edition of Boeing’s ecoDemonstrator programme is scheduled to  begin in August, and is the first time it has used a Boeing 787-10.These Dreamliner test flights will measure aircraft noise from sensors installed on the aircraft and on the ground. Working with industry-leading partners, including Nasa, Etihad and Boeing will harness data that will be used to improve the sound reduction potential of future aircraft design.

The testing programme will run for about four weeks before Etihad takes delivery of its new Boeing 787-10. As part of the same testing programme, another flight will aim to improve airspace efficiency. The test flight will see pilots, air traffic controllers and airline operations share digital information in an effort to optimise routing efficiency.

It’s a step forward in Etihad’s commitment to sustainable flying, something that the airline’s CEO vows will not be derailed.

“It’s a Covid-dominated aviation agenda at the moment, but in no way does it overshadow the work that was going on and the commitments we’ve made to sustainability,” said Tony Douglas, speaking at FIA Connect.

All ecoDemonstrator test flights will operate on a blend of sustainable fuel, significantly lowering the jet’s environmental footprint.

“Industry collaboration is a key aspect of Boeing’s ecoDemonstrator programme that enables us to accelerate innovation. We’re proud to broaden our sustainability partnership with Etihad Airways by testing promising technologies that can reduce emissions, help commercial aviation meet our climate goals, and allow the industry to grow in a responsible manner that respects our planet and its natural resources,” said Stan Deal, Boeing’s chief executive.

The new test flights are just one part of the puzzle that aviation needs to solve to become more sustainable.

“Etihad has been of the opinion for some time that there’s not one single solution – there’s no big silver bullet – it’s about collaboration and bringing together smart ideas that contribute to more efficient ways of flight,” said Douglas.

The industry has been one of the hardest hit by the coronavirus, with demand for commercial travel plunging as governments around the world issued no-travel advice and countries suspended international flights. In some ways, this forced pause has highlighted what needs to be done in terms of reducing aviation’s impact on the environment.

“I am optimistic that we can definitely crack this now,” said Douglas during the FIA Connect session, entitled ‘A Future of Clean Skies’.

“The bridge back from the crisis is the way that the oceans have recovered since the world has not been operating in the same way, or the way forests and animal life has recovered. We know it’s the right thing to do, and aviation has a big part to play in that,” affirmed the Etihad CEO.

A test flight focusing on improving efficiency in the sky is something Douglas is particularly passionate about.

“The roads, so to speak, in the skies were almost laid down by the Romans, because many of them haven’t been reorganised since,” he said, referring to outdated flight routes used by airlines.

“Aircraft seldom fly the optimum route between A and B… There is far too much fuel being burned for all the wrong reasons.”

It’s a point that Grant Shapps, the UK’s Secretary of State for Transport and another panel member at FIA Connect, agreed with.

I’m now passing an airspace bill through parliament that’s designed to reorganise the UK’s airspace in a way that makes sense – why have aircraft circle around, pump out CO2, increase environmental damage and delay passengers when they could be flying straight in?

Grant Shapps

“Tony [Douglas] makes a good point re air space, it’s archaic. I’m now passing an airspace bill through parliament that’s designed to reorganise the UK’s airspace in a way that makes sense – why have aircraft circle around, pump out CO2, increase environmental damage and delay passengers when they could be flying straight in?” he said.

This is something that Etihad has been working towards rectifying. “We’ve made big strides in saving fuel burn through more direct routes, and continuous descent trials on our Greenliner trials earlier this year, however much more needs to be done by ANSP’s [air navigation service providers] to enable better routing everywhere,” said Adrian Gane, director for sustainability at Etihad, on the sidelines of FIA Connect.

Despite Etihad’s commitment to sustainable flying, Douglas also admitted that the airline is fighting for survival.

“The commercial implication in the aftermath of Covid suggests that there’s going to be a seismic shape change to the way in which our very industry goes forward,” warned Douglas.

“And those who do have the opportunity to move forward will build the industry in response to Covid-19 from a wellness point of view, but also to maintain the drive on sustainability. I think those two aspects will become the ever-present foundation stones going forward,” he added.

Etihad is slowly resuming its network after more than three months of suspended commercial services. The airline has most recently announced it will operate services to China from Monday, July 27, bringing its total number of destinations in operation to 59 by August.

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