The First Sustainable Fuel-Powered Flight in the Middle East Carried Out in Dubai

As exciting as it is to watch the progress of innovative hydrogen-based propulsion systems or battery electric ones, SAF (Sustainable Aviation Fuel) is still the number one solution for green aviation. The biggest aero engine manufacturers in the world have already successfully tested SAF, and several pioneering flights for both airliners and helicopters have confirmed the efficiency of this alternative fuel. Another milestone was recently hit in the Middle East.
Emirates conducted the first SAF-powered flight in the Middle East 7 photos
Photo: Emirates Airline
Emirates Nails First SAF-Powered Flight in the Middle EastEmirates Nails First SAF-Powered Flight in the Middle EastEmirates Nails First SAF-Powered Flight in the Middle EastEmirates Nails First SAF-Powered Flight in the Middle EastEmirates Nails First SAF-Powered Flight in the Middle EastEmirates Nails First SAF-Powered Flight in the Middle East
Although it’s been said that SAF, also known as “green jet fuel,” is the most efficient and affordable solution for lowering aviation emissions right now, the industry is still working to get approval for the use of 100% SAF for commercial operations. So far, official regulations don’t allow anything past the 50% blend limit. To get to 100% SAF, various players in the industry continue to test higher ratios of alternative fuel, and gradually increasing them.

Emirates is the latest one to take a big step in this direction, through a demonstration flight that was pioneering in more ways than one. One of its aircraft, a Boeing 777-300ER, took off from the Dubai International Airport (DBX) and flew over the Dubai coastline, with one of its two engines running on 100% SAF. The airliner stayed in the air for more than an hour, before returning to the airport.

It was the first flight of this kind in the Middle East and North Africa, and it was the first Boeing 777 to fly with 100% SAF in a GE engine. So, this was an important achievement not just for the airliner, but also for Boeing, GE, and Honeywell (manufacturer of the 331-500 auxiliary power unit for the Boeing 777), who were able to confirm that their technology is compatible with what might be the aviation fuel of the future.

But don’t think that this unblended sustainable fuel is easy to obtain. In this particular case, it was a mix of SAFs from two different suppliers, and the perfect ratio was reached only after multiple lab tests. The perfect ratio means that the final product is almost identical to conventional jet fuel, so that it can be used as a drop-in fuel (without technical modifications to the engine).

The SAF that powered this pioneering Dubai flight was a mix of HEFA-SPK from Neste and HDO-SAK from Virent. Neste is one of the top names linked to the production of SAF. It has partnered with both Rolls-Royce and Airbus for extensive tests, and its product has also been used to power the world’s first SAF flight with passengers onboard. The company claims to be the largest SAF producer in the world, with plans to reach an annual production capacity of 1.5 million tons, this year.

As for Emirates, this is just one of the steps it has taken on the path to greener operations (in addition to implementing flexible routings in order to burn less fuel). The demonstration flight was also an important achievement for UAE, which has declared 2023 the “Year of Sustainability.”

According to the airline, more SAF demonstrations will follow, with the hope of accelerating the certification of unblended, 100% SAF for commercial flights. At the same time, efforts are being made to make this alternative fuel more easily available on a large scale and in different parts of the world.
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About the author: Otilia Drăgan
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Otilia believes that if it’s eco, green, or groundbreaking, people should know about it (especially if it's got wheels or wings). Working in online media for over five years, she's gained a deeper perspective on how people everywhere can inspire each other.
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