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sustainable aviation fuel

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

Will Palmer
November 22, 2023

Today, Dubai-based Emirates became the first airline to operate an Airbus A380, the world’s largest passenger airliner, using 100% sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) in one of its engines. The jet used conventional jet fuel in three of its four Engine Alliance GP7200 engines and 100% SAF in the fourth engine, marking another milestone in the industry’s growing momentum to bring standardization, certification, and adoption of 100% SAF closer to reality. The use of SAF can reduce carbon emissions over the fuel’s life cycle when compared with conventional jet fuel.

The demonstration flight was the product of a partnership consisting of Airbus, Neste, Virent, and Engine Alliance, a 50-50 joint company between GE Aerospace and Pratt & Whitney. It took place amid the Third International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Conference on Aviation and Alternative Fuels (CAAF/3), being held this week in Dubai. CAAF is convened by the U.N.’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

This test flight also comes after Emirates flew the first demonstration flight using 100% SAF in the Middle East–Africa region earlier this year. On that flight, aboard a Boeing 777-300ER, SAF powered one of the two GE90 jet engines. 

“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.”

 

Emirates A380 SAF flight 2
A tanker loaded SAF for one of the A380’s engines on the tarmac. Images credit: Emirates

In fact, GE Aerospace has been involved SAF for more than 15 years, since efforts to test synthetic fuel began, according to Gurhan Andac, GE Aerospace engineering fuels and fuel additives leader. In October, Andac appeared at the Sustainable Aviation Futures North America conference, where he said that even though SAF constitutes only 0.1% of jet fuel consumed worldwide, these alternative fuels — which have the same chemical composition as the jet fuel most commonly used today — are set to have their moment soon. 

Almost 530,000 flights have operated on SAF blends since 2011, and there are now six airports regularly supplied with SAF, according to the Air Transport Action Group (ATAG), a coalition focused on driving air transport toward net zero emissions. This year an eighth SAF pathway — or set of conversion processes for the various SAF feedstocks — was certified, and seven more are being assessed over the coming 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.

 

Emirates A380 SAF flight 3
Captains Khalid Binsultan and Philippe Lombet commanded today’s SAF demonstration flight. 

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.”

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