UAE carrier Emirates said on Thursday that it has committed US$200 million to fund research and development (R&D) projects focussed on reducing the impact of fossil fuels in commercial aviation.

Emirates added that it is “the biggest single commitment by any airline on sustainability” and added that the funds will be disbursed over three years.

Emirates’ Environmental Sustainability Executive Steering Group will oversee the disbursements from the fund and will be supported by technical experts.

Sir Tim Clark, president of Emirates Airline, said, “Our US$200 million fund is earmarked for R&D, and not for operating costs like the purchase of SAF or carbon offsets to tick regulatory boxes – activities we consider business-as-usual. We are ring-fencing US$200 million to invest in advanced fuel and energy solutions for aviation, which is where airlines currently face the biggest impediment in reducing our environmental impact. We looked long and hard at the reality we face in commercial aircraft and engine technology, fuel supply chain, and our industry’s regulatory and eco-system requirements. It’s clear that with the current pathways available to airlines in terms of emissions reduction, our industry won’t be able to hit net zero targets in the prescribed timeline.

“We believe our industry needs better solutions, and that’s why we’re looking to partner with leading organisations on R&D. Our aim is to contribute meaningfully to practical solutions for the long-term sustainability of commercial aviation.

“Until viable solutions can be found, Emirates will continue to implement environmentally responsible practices throughout our business, including uplifting SAF where feasible, ensuring efficient fleet operations, and inducting modern aircraft into our fleet.”

The airline said that its commitment to sustainability focusses on three areas: emissions reduction, responsible consumption, and the conservation of wildlife and habitats.

In January, Emirates conducted a test flight with 100 per cent Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) in one engine of a B777-300ER. The flight, conducted in partnership with GE Aerospace, Boeing, Honeywell, Neste and Virent, took off from Dubai International airport (DXB), and flew for more than one hour over the Dubai coastline.

Emirates conducts test flight with 100 per cent sustainable aviation fuel

The airline first used SAF back in 2017, and said that it “continues to participate actively in the SAF market and seek opportunities in its network to use SAF where feasible.”

However, it outlined its current constraints in doing so by noting that bio-based SAF, currently the only type of commercially available SAF, “is extremely limited in supply.”

IATA meanwhile estimates that the entire world’s annual supply of SAF meets less than 0.1 per cent of what airlines need.

With regards to its fleet, Emirates currently has 200 of the latest Airbus and Boeing widebody aircraft on order, including A350s and 777Xs.

The airline has a comprehensive fuel efficiency programme that actively engages in operational programmes to reduce unnecessary fuel burn and emissions. For example, it operates “flex tracks” or flexible routings where it partners with air navigation service providers to create the most efficient flight plan for each flight, taking advantage of natural tailwinds, while avoiding headwinds and weather systems. It has also introduced fuel efficient practices while the aircraft is on the ground, such as the use of ground power units instead of the aircraft Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) and switching one or two engines off while taxiing in after landing.