Dubai-based Emirates became the first airline to operate an Airbus A380, the world’s largest passenger airliner, on 100% sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) in one engine. The aircraft was powered by four Engine Alliance GP7200 engines. Images courtesy of Emirates.

A Jumbo Moment for SAF: Emirates Operates First A380 on 100% Sustainable Aviation Fuel in One Engine.

Emirates, based in Dubai, became the first airline to use 100% sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) to power an Airbus A380, the world’s largest passenger airplane. The jet, powered by four Engine Alliance GP7200 engines, uses 100% SAF in one of its four engines, marking yet another milestone in the industry’s growing momentum toward standardization, certification, and implementation of 100% SAF. When compared to traditional jet fuel, the usage of SAF can minimize carbon emissions across the fuel’s life cycle.

The demonstration flight was made possible by a collaboration between Airbus, Neste, Virent, and Engine Alliance, a 50-50 joint venture between GE Aerospace and Pratt & Whitney. It occurred during the Third International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Conference on Aviation and Alternative Fuels (CAAF/3), which is being held in Dubai this week. CAAF is organized by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) of the United Nations.

This test flight follows Emirates’ earlier this year demonstration flight using 100% SAF in the Middle East-Africa region. On the voyage, SAF powered one of the two GE90 jet engines aboard a Boeing 777-300ER.

“Innovation and collaboration are the keys to reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050, as this 100% SAF demonstration flight shows,” said Aziz Koleilat, GE Aerospace vice president of global sales and marketing for the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and Turkey. “All GE Aerospace and Engine Alliance engines can operate on approved SAF blends today, and through extensive research and testing, GE Aerospace is helping lead the approval and adoption of 100% SAF in the aviation industry.”

According to Gurhan Andac, GE Aerospace’s engineering fuels and fuel additives leader, GE Aerospace has been active in SAF for more than 15 years, since attempts to test synthetic fuel began. Andac spoke at the Sustainable Aviation Futures North America conference in October, saying that while SAF accounts for only 0.1% of jet fuel consumed globally, these alternative fuels—which have the same chemical composition as the most commonly used jet fuel today—are set to have their moment soon.

According to the Air Transport Action Group (ATAG), a partnership dedicated on advancing air transport toward net zero emissions, about 530,000 flights have used SAF blends since 2011, and there are now six airports that are regularly supplied with SAF. An eighth SAF pathway, or collection of conversion processes for distinct SAF feedstocks, was authorized this year, and seven more are being evaluated over the next two to five years.

ATAG shared more good news for SAF:

“Airlines, operators and corporate partners currently have around $45 billion in forward purchase agreements for SAF,” up from $6 billion before the pandemic, an ATAG news release said. And delivery of SAF to airlines increased by tenfold from 2019 to 2022. The Association of Asia Pacific Airlines, meanwhile, committed to a minimum of 5% of their fuel being SAF by 2030. And “there are now 50 airlines representing over 40% of global air traffic committed to more than 5% of their own fuel use being SAF in 2030. Many have set a goal of 10% and some are up to 30% by 2030,” ATAG reported.

ATAG Executive Director Haldane Dodd also underscored the importance of collaboration in the effort, saying there are three things needed to bring about an energy transition in aviation: “government policy, to support supply and create certainty for demand; financing of the potentially $1.5 trillion in infrastructure capital needed to supply SAF at the scale required; and a serious effort by the traditional energy sector to shift their products from fossil to sustainable fuels.”

Dodd said the industry’s decarbonization strategy must also include hydrogen, more electric flight, and other emerging technologies. But, he said, “every piece of analysis shows that SAF is the most impactful way to cut aviation’s carbon emissions before 2050.”

“SAF is not an R&D project we conduct on the side,” GE Aerospace’s Andac said in October. “It’s in the field. We have over half a million flights in the aviation industry … It’s out there, and we’re flying.”

Source: GE