With sustainability being the word of the day in aviation circles, here’s a look at some green initiatives by major international airlines. By Riaan Jacob George
Sustainability in the Aviation Industry
Given the massive scale of its operations, Dubai-based Emirates has taken a big step by opting to provide sustainable blankets to its flyers. The blankets offered on long- haul flights, in Economy Class, are made with recycled bottles. To ensure sustainability, the airlines have partnered with in-flight product consultants, Buzz, to conceptualise these certified ecoTHREAD blankets, each of which is made with 28 recycled bottles. According to the airline’s statisticians, in 2019 alone these blankets kept 88 million plastic bottles out of landfills, the same as the weight of 44 A380 aircraft. The carrier has put in place a host of other recycling initiatives where cans, plastic containers, glass bottles, and even paper products find their way to the recycle bin.
Paper Beats Plastic
Singapore Airlines recently announced its new in-flight meal service concept in the Economy Class on certain routes. The airline has decided to stay away from plastic utensils. Instead, it has opted for paper boxes and containers, made with paper certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. Plastic cutlery has also made way for bamboo cutlery. According to the airline, this will reduce single-use plastic usage on its flights by up to 80 per cent. Singapore Airlines partnered with its catering arm, SATS, to conceptualise this leak-proof, oven-friendly, and planet- friendly service equipment. The changes will be seen on flights that last less than 3.5 hours.
Sustainable Fashion & Menu
UK-based Virgin Atlantic has partnered with iconic designer Vivienne Westwood to design its new staff uniforms. But this collaboration is not just about fashion. The in-flight and ground staff uniforms for these airlines have been conceived keeping sustainability in mind. The new uniforms employ recycled polyester yarn made from used plastic bottles. Fabrics used in the suits also have a nano finish, which enables the clothes to retain their colour and finish for much longer. Accessories like bags are also made with recycled materials like brass, canvas, and discarded leather. On an unrelated note, the airline has removed beef products from its in-flight menus, an initiative by founder Sir Richard Branson aimed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Hong Kong carrier Cathay Pacific is the world’s first airline to serve OmniPork on its flights. OmniPork is a plant-based pork alternative—a mix of pea protein, mushrooms, rice, and soy; it features in a range of in-flight dishes like OmniPork bolognese and dim sums. The initiative is part of the airline’s larger collaboration with Green Monday to opt for more sustainable food choices as well as to offer more diverse options to vegetarian diners. The move will help in reducing the greenhouse gas emissions attributed to pork production. The move towards serving plant-based mock meats is a micro-trend that could see more takers in the future.
Corporate Voluntary Carbon Offset Programme
Qatar Airways’ patrons can now partake in the award-winning airline’s sustainability initiatives. The Corporate Voluntary Carbon Offset Programme will permit frequent corporate flyers to make informed green choices. They have the chance to reduce and offset their carbon footprint before or after a flight, when they’re on business trips. The programme uses IATA standards to calculate CO2 emissions, and travellers can do this themselves through a simplified and dedicated web portal. Fun fact: for this carbon offset programme, the airline has partnered with the Fatanpur Wind Farm, which runs 54 wind turbines in Madhya Pradesh, India.
Buckle up, the way we fly is about to change!
Fuelling the revolution
Earlier this year, Singapore Airlines became the first airline to sign the Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) declaration, joining companies like Airbus and engine manufacturer Rolls- Royce. The airline has also committed itself to a goal of net-zero emissions by the middle of the century.
Data for a good deed
A partnership between Emirates and GE Digital relies on flight data solutions to help reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emission. This digital initiative will also help in ensuring airspace efficiency, pilot insights, and digitisation of in-flight records. Fuel insights will enable airlines and aircraft manufacturers to work towards greener operations.
Etihad Airways has collaborated with Boeing and GE for the Greenliner Programme. Placing the Boeing 787 Dreamliner in focus, it’s testing fuel alternatives (SAF), sustainable materials for amenities, optimised flight routes, and reduction of single-use plastic. Etihad claims that Greenliner flights consume 15 per cent less fuel on average.
A Big Leap
The longest flights in history are set to take off in 2025 with Qantas announcing its direct Sydney-London/New York flights on specially repurposed Airbus aircraft. This aircraft will not only use less fuel but also limit sound pollution with quieter engines. It’s an important step as the flight time is likely to exceed 19 hours.