A pared back Airbus order from Emirates and a focus on sustainability from Etihad hints at a new, subdued era of Middle Eastern aviation at this week's Dubai Airshow.
Dubai-based carrier Emirates announced on Monday it would be buying 20 additional wide-body Airbus A350s, bringing its total order for the aircraft to 50 in a deal worth $16 billion at list price.
The announcement essentially confirms a February order for 30 of the A350-900 planes that Emirates had announced that month and tacks on another 20 of Airbus’ newest generation wide-body aircraft, bringing the total to 50.
Emirates Group Chairman and CEO Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum said the new deal “replaced” February’s agreement for an intent to purchase 70 Airbus aircraft, which had included 40 of the A330neo. That deal was valued around $21.4 billion.
Monday’s announcement by Emirates is the first major purchasing agreement to be unveiled at the biennial Dubai Airshow this year amid a slowdown in major purchases by the Middle East’s big Gulf airlines. The airshow opened on Sunday and runs until Thursday on the grounds near Dubai’s newest international airport.
Meanwhile, Abu Dhabi’s flagship carrier Etihad Airways said Monday it’s launching one of the world’s most fuel-efficient long-haul airplanes as the company seeks to save costs on fuel and position itself as a more environmentally-conscious choice for travelers.
Etihad’s “Greenliner” is a Boeing 787 Dreamliner that will depart on its first route from Abu Dhabi to Brussels in January 2020. Etihad’s CEO Tony Douglas described the aircraft as a flying laboratory for testing that could benefit the entire industry.
With fuel costs eating up around a quarter of airline spending, Douglas said the goal of the Greenliner is to be 20% more fuel efficient than other aircraft in Etihad’s fleet.
“This is not just a box-ticking exercise,” he told reporters at the unveiling of the initiative at the Dubai Airshow alongside executives from Boeing.
Douglas said the aircraft “not only makes sense economically from a profit and loss account point of view, but because it also directly impacts the CO2 because of the fuel burn.”
Etihad has reported losses of $4.75 billion since 2016 as its strategy of aggressively buying stakes in airlines from Europe to Australia exposed the company to major risks.
Despite its financials, the airline continues to be among the most innovative.
This year, Etihad flew the world’s first passenger flight using sustainable biofuel made from a plant that grows in saltwater. It also became the first in the Middle East to operate a flight without any single-use plastics on board to raise awareness of the effects of plastic pollution.
Aviation accounts for a small but rapidly growing share of greenhouse-gas emissions — about 2.5% worldwide. But forecasters expect air travel to grow rapidly in the coming years.
There’s a small but growing movement in Europe and North America that’s shunning air travel because it produces high levels of greenhouse gas emissions. The trend is most prominent in Sweden, where the likes of teen climate activist Greta Thunberg have challenged travelers to confront the huge carbon cost of flying.
Some campaigners are also “flight shaming” travelers for their carbon footprint. Most recently, Prince Harry and his wife Meghan were criticized for flying on private jets this summer while calling for more action on climate change.
Etihad says it plans to make the Greenliner a “social media star” to bring under sharper focus its developments and achievements worldwide. Douglas said anything that Eithad learns with Boeing from this aircraft’s operations will be open domain knowledge “because it’s about moving the industry forward in a responsible fashion.”
“We’re like a millennial and like all good millennials, they’re really focused on the environment and the sustainability agenda,” Douglas said, referring to Etihad’s 16 years in operation.
The Greenliner will be the only aircraft of its kind in Etihad’s fleet of Dreamliners. The company currently has 36 of the 787s in its fleet with plans to operate 50.
“This is a small step today, but in a very, very long journey,” Douglas said.
Photo credit: Etihad and Boeing executives pose at the Dubai Airshow. Jon Gambrell / AP Photo