Low Emission Aircraft Are Priority For Middle East Giant Qatar Airways

Qatar Airways is committed to keep investing in new technology aircraft to reach its target of becoming a climate-neutral airline. Meanwhile, in an exclusive interview with Simple Flying, the airline’s CEO called on aircraft manufacturers, engine-makers, and fuel suppliers to put more money into research and development to help airlines reach zero-emission growth.

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Qatar Airways’ future is lower emissions aircraft, its CEO says. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | JFKJets.com

The pandemic year could easily have put a wrench in the sustainability works of the aviation industry. When fighting for immediate survival, it would be understandable if environmental concerns took a step down on the priority ladder. However, for many airlines, the lull in operations has had the opposite effect.

Pledges of investment into decarbonization technologies and zero-emission timeline declarations have followed each other over the past twelve months. Current long-haul world leader Qatar Airways is looking to continued fleet renewal to make good on its climate policy.

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Continuous fleet upgrade

Qatar Airways CEO, Akbar Al Baker, says that the carrier is heavily investing in new aircraft. While the airline has over 200 new planes on order, he especially mentioned the 777X, which is set to be 18% to 20% more fuel-efficient than the airline’s current Triple Sevens.

The airline has an order for 60 of the 777X. When the jets will actually enter service seems to be anyone’s guess at the moment. However, the Qatar CEO is expecting to take delivery of the first of Boeing’s new flagship widebody as soon as 2022.

Meanwhile, Qatar is also ready to order successors to the A350 and 787 as soon as they become available. Al Baker is calling on manufacturers to do more when it comes to investing in new, even more environmentally friendly technology. In an exclusive interview with Simple Flying’s Joanna Bailey last week, the Qatar CEO said,

“I would also ask the OEMs – the aircraft manufacturers, engine manufacturers, fuel suppliers – to invest in R&D to come up with new technology that is available but is expensive. This is why the OEMs are avoiding investing money, but they need to invest the windfall profits they make when they sell airplanes, in order to protect our environment and help airlines like Qatar Airways, to reduce emissions and to have growth with zero-emission increase when we are expanding.”

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Qatar Airways will keep renewing its young fleet with more and more fuel-efficient planes, its CEO says. Photo: Boeing

Electric and hydrogen not viable solutions

Mr Al Baker did not immediately specify the new technology to which he was referring. Meanwhile, he does not see electric flight as a solution for a more sustainable aviation future. Carrying the five to twenty people for which the technology is available today is simply not enough volume, he said.

Mr Al Baker is also not convinced about the safety of potential hydrogen-powered planes. Citing the volatility of the gas, he believes that research will uncover alternative zero-emission fuel that will also be less combustible and keep passengers safe.

A priority for energy companies should be to make sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs) more available and affordable, Mr Al Baker further stated. Biofuels are currently between two and five times as costly as conventional jet fuel, something that makes their use prohibitively expensive for airlines without additional fees from customers, for instance, through corporate client programs, or government subsidies.

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The Qatar Airways’ CEO called the actions of states still setting up coal-fired facilities ‘criminal’. Photo: Getty Images

Aiming for climate-neutral

Never one to mince words, the Qatar CEO also said that countries that are still developing coal-fired facilities and ‘burning fossil fuels to increase their economic activity’ should be ashamed of themselves and instead look to the work of his airline for inspiration.

“I think it is really criminal. They should take the example of Qatar Airways and keep on investing in technology in order for us to be more efficient.”

While not wanting to promise a specific date, Akbar Al Baker says he aims to make Qatar Airways a climate-neutral airline. Until significant breakthroughs in technology are reported, one of the most important tools alongside fleet renewal will be the carrier’s carbon offset program, launched in November last year.

“We will do everything possible to invest in new technology, which will keep on reducing our emission footprint. At the same time, Qatar Airways is investing in offsets in order to keep on continuously reducing or compensating our emissions, and we will keep on investing for the foreseeable future until such a time that we see that there is a breakthrough in technology.”

What technologies other than electric or hydrogen do you think aircraft and engine manufacturers should be exploring? Should airlines help fund R&D? Leave a comment below and let us know. 

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