Emirates Airlines is a major global air transport company that is based in Dubai, UAE. The company’s operations cause significant impacts in terms of environmental degradation.
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The company has established an environmental policy that seeks to highlight its commitment in addressing its associated carbon footprint. These policies and statements, however, have no impact in assisting the company to curb environmental degradation that is caused by its operations.
Instead, Emirates continues to cause grave environmental effects each year. The engine combustion of aircrafts emits carbon dioxide (CO2), as well as other gases like nitrogen oxides (NOx) and water vapour.
CO2 and water vapour are greenhouse gases that are responsible for the increasing global warming phenomenon. This causes a rise in earth temperatures beyond the average.
The greenhouse gases remain trapped in the atmosphere for long durations, thus allowing the ultraviolet rays from the sun to reach the earth surface.
Emirates operations also cause noise pollution that affects residents living near Dubai Airport and those living near all the other airports that are served by the airlines.
The environmental policy by the company falls short of addressing the actual problem because Emirates has no direct say in the technology applied by aircrafts manufacturers.
Thus, the company is only a consumer of readymade technology and cannot purport to alter the technology through its internal policies to achieve zero impact on environmental footprint.
The growth and emergence of the United Arab Emirates’ aviation industry dates back to about four decades ago when the Dubai Airport was opened for the first time.
A series of initiations and developments have continuously been witnessed within the industry, further propelling it to the greater international heights that are evident today. In 1968, another of the Emirates’ airports opened its doors in Abu Dhabi.
The airport was referred to as “Al Bateen Airport” (Jain para. 10). The Ras Al Khaimah airport became operational eight years after the inauguration of the Abu Dhabi Airport in 1976, adding to the limited number of airport facilities that existed in the country back then (Jain para 64).
However, 1985 witnessed a landmark development in the country’s aviation industry when the Emirates airline was born. The great journey to global stardom of the Emirates Airlines had begun with a paltry capital of $10 million and two aircrafts.
The company was started in Dubai, which remains to be its headquarters to date (O’Connell 339). The Etihad Airways, which is UAE’s national flag carrier, entered the country’s aviation industry in 2003.
Unlike Emirates Airlines, Etihad has its home in Abu Dhabi, which is also considered to be the capital of the UAE. According to expert estimates, it is anticipated that the Emirates Airlines could emerge as the largest wide-body carrier in the world by the year 2015 (Grimme 333).
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Today, the Emirates Airlines and Etihad Airways have not only become household brands in the United Arab Emirates, but their fame and popularity spreads across the globe (Melly 18).
Both companies fly to numerous destinations worldwide and have steady revenue that also translates to high profits each year (“UAE Aviation Industry-Review 2012” 64).
Emirates Airlines is among the world’s ten leading carriers as per scheduled international passenger-kilometres covered annually, as well as the scheduled freight tonne-kilometres.
Despite the tremendous growth and expansion of the global aviation industry, there have been numerous repercussions that mainly have far-reaching consequences on the environment.
Noise pollution is one aspect of environmental pollution that is closely tied to the aviation industry (Whitelegg 5). Populations living around airports are the most affected by the continuous noise that is made by airplanes landing and those leaving the airports.
Noise pollution has the potential of damaging health, as well as distracting people from their anticipated quality of life. It hinders the affected people from enjoying peace within their neighbourhoods.
Apart from noise pollution affecting human beings, wildlife is also disturbed by noise emitted from airplanes.
As Whitelegg (5) points out, there are numerous effects that noise pollution from the aviation industry cause. These include hearing impairment, pain, sleep disturbance, stress, cardiovascular effects, as well as interfered communication and speech awareness or perception.
Additionally, noise pollution has the effect of mental disorders in humans, interrupted task performance and level of productivity, deficits in reading capabilities, especially among children, and psychoendoctrine effects.
The other aspect of environmental pollution that is associated with the aviation industry is the ground level air emissions. Aircrafts continue to emit additional ground level ozone antecedents, also known as Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) every passing year.
The air around airports and fields is also heavy with nitrogen oxides that are poisonous if inhaled for long periods (Whitelegg 8). Apart from the direct contribution of gaseous emissions from airplanes, the aviation industry at large also contributes indirectly to environmental degradation.
Airports generate significant traffic as they are busy freight centres. Airports around the world have numerous bus stations and taxis that bring in passengers and freight or offer logistical links to arrivals at the termini.
The combined carbon footprint from this industry is large and causes serious environmental degradation.
People continue to be concerned about the climate change that has for long continued to be an issue around the world. Aircrafts have their fair share of contribution to this alarming phenomenon that threatens to affect life with adverse consequences.
Aircrafts depend on aviation gasoline and jet fuel to be able to be powered. The aftermath of the combined combustion emits carbon dioxide, water vapour, and a mixture of other emissions.
These gases are emitted in ratios of 70% to 30% to 1% respectively (ICAO 31). As the ICAO report (31) further concludes, both the CO2 and water vapour that form the bulk of the emissions comprise the greenhouse gases.
The resultant effect of the emissions last for varied periods. In particular, CO2 lasts for very long periods in the atmosphere, although water vapour comparatively lasts for a shorter duration.
Although the aviation industry is only responsible for 2% of the global CO2 that is emitted into the atmosphere, international flights are responsible for 62% of the emissions.
Experts’ projections by environmentalists point at the growth of CO2 emissions resulting from the aviation industry growing by between 3% and 4% every year (ICAO 31).
Although there is a likelihood of CO2 emissions from the aviation industry being mitigated in the short term using improved fuel efficiency, the improvements are only partial in as far as their impacts in the long term are concerned (ICAO 31).
Forecasts tell of a sharp rise in NOx coming from the aviation sector. For instance, it is anticipated that by 2015 the earth will experience increase in nitrogen oxide emissions to the tune of 210% (Whitelegg, Williams, and Evans 20).
By 2050, the same emissions could increase by up to 600% (Whitelegg, Williams, and Evans 20). As the emissions into the atmosphere increase over the years, more aircraft contrails will become commonplace across the global sky.
The result of these aviation effects is increased global warming and erratic environmental phenomena that could have far-reaching consequences to all inhabitants on earth (Whitelegg, Williams, and Evans 20).
- The environmental policy adopted by Emirates Airlines is only a public statement that seeks to give the company better image rather than address the environmental issues associated with its operations.
- The annual environmental reports and findings that are periodically released by Emirates Airlines lack any facts that prove their positivity in reducing the environmental impact of the company.
Different organisations in society, such as governments, environmental agencies, and individual companies actively provide details about their sustainability plans.
However, such information is many times discursive because it only provides part of the relevant aspects towards an equally balanced understanding of the relevant issue at hand. This report focuses on interpreting the environmental performance of the aviation industry.
The study is particularly limited to the Emirates Airlines, which is a leading company in the UAE and the Gulf region at large.
This research has mainly relied on secondary sources of information to draw out its analysis and conclusions about the environmental impact caused by the aviation industry and in particular the Emirates Airline.
Various in-flight magazines, brochures, journals, as well as magazines and reports about Emirates Airlines were analysed with focus on the environmental issues and effects that are associated with the performance of the company.
In total, Emirates’ environmental policy statements were identified and used as the basis of analysing the environmental performance, as well as sustainability of the airline (“Emirates Airlines Is Increasing” 68).
The following four statements used as part of Emirates’ environmental policy are the basis for the argument in this research:
- ‘Acquiring the latest technology in terms of aircrafts, engines, as well as ground equipment that are eco-efficient.’
- ‘Educating members of staff on environmental-related issues by use of ‘Environment Champions’ programme in order to welcome their contributions and initiatives on the environment.’
- ‘Operating the company’s assets in a way that takes into consideration environmental responsibility. This will enhance compliance with environmental regulations as well as applicable standards.’
- ‘Initiating and using particular environmental policies that are relevant to sustainable practices in procurement, waste minimisation and management, efficient use of water and energy, together with sustainable ground transport.’
These environmental policy statements of the Emirates are, thereafter, evaluated using the materials and data available from independent scientific publications.
The main reason is to determine whether there is any relation between the scientific insights given and the policy statements of the organisation.
First Statement: ‘Investment in modern technology that is eco-efficient in engines, aircraft, and ground equipment’
This statement is meant to show that acquisition of the latest technology has negligible environmental footprint.
It gives the erroneous picture that portrays technology in engine manufacturing and other equipment as having the ability to render environmental implications as invalid.
However, this statement represents a discourse because Emirates is recognised for wide-bodied fleet of aircrafts that comprise of the Airbus 380 (“Emirates Airlines, Airbus” 7).
The wingspan of these aircrafts has been limited by the ability of airports to accommodate them. As Dalhuijsen and Slingerland (4) point out, it results in loss in fuel efficiency by up to 11% compared to optimising the wingspan to the requisite size of 90.2 m.
Second statement: ‘Training staff on environmental issues, using ‘Environment Champions’ programme, in order to involve them in initiatives related to the environment’
This statement appears to suggest that staff awareness of environmental issues can potentially eliminate the environmental impact of Emirates Airlines.
A critical examination of the organisation’s operations, however, indicates that workers have a limited role in influencing environmental footprint of the company. Emirates acquires all its aircrafts from foreign firms in Europe and the USA, which arrive when they are fully built.
The combustion of these aircrafts is set right at the manufacturer’s location and employees have a limited role in reducing the environmental impact.
Third statement: ‘Operating our assets in a manner that highlights environmental responsibility in order to comply with environmental regulations as well as standards that are applicable’
While Emirates seeks to operate within the acceptable environmental standards and regulations, it is important to note that these regulations do not mean zero environmental impacts.
The regulations only mean to reduce the amount of environmental footprints that are attributable to the organisation.
Given that the gaseous emissions from aircrafts remain in the atmosphere for prolonged periods, it is noteworthy that the standards and regulations do not offer any lasting solution to the problem.
The accumulated emissions occurring over the years because of Emirates’ operations still has a major impact on the global environment.
Fourth statement: ‘Development and application of particular environmental policies that relate to sustainable procurement, minimisation and management of waste, water and energy efficiency, as well as sustainable ground transport’
This statement appears to proclaim the fact that Emirates Airlines has total control over its environmental impact and can potentially manage the resultant consequences.
However, this statement fails to recognise that the company is only a consumer of a technology piece whose total control lies with the manufacturer.
Unless the aircraft manufacturers take the initiative to invent new technologies that are environmentally friendly, there is little that Emirates can do in terms of their choices.
The main determinant is with the manufacturers of the technology, no matter how efficient the environmental policies by the company may turn out to be.
Limitation of the Research
This research has heavily relied on secondary sources of data to base its argument. Secondary data has its own limitations and it is difficult to verify some details that are contained in it.
The data may also be biased depending on the motive of the person carrying out the research. Future research on this topical area should entail carrying out primary research to obtain first hand data.
A critical analysis of the environmental policy and statements adopted by Emirates Airlines highlight the fact that it is only a move aimed at achieving a positive image for the company.
The statements borrow scientific terms and often use facts that may appear to be undisputed in the first instance.
However, a critical analysis of these facts and statements against independent scientific research reveals the fact that Emirates Airlines is not capable of managing its environmental footprint as the company would appear to suggest.
As an airliner, Emirates is causing too much degradation of the environment, which affects the residents of Dubai, as well as all other residents across the globe whose local airports are served by the airliner.
The company is only a consumer of technology that is manufactured by a third party. This makes it difficult for Emirates to develop policies that can have a direct influence on the environmental performance of the aircrafts.
The environmental impacts caused by Emirates’ operations include noise pollution that causes disturbance and annoyance to the people living around Dubai Airport, as well as other airports in UAE and across the globe where the company serves.
Emirates equally contributes to the global warming problem that is experienced every year through emitting CO2 and water vapour that result from the engine combustion of the aircrafts. These are also referred to as the greenhouse gases that take a considerable period within the atmosphere.
Emirates should consider a more forceful position in seeking to address the environmental footprint that results from its operations. The company should compel aircraft manufacturers to manufacturer aircrafts that are 100% environmental friendly.
Such technology would involve the use of natural energy only to power the aircrafts, such as use of solar power. Emissions resulting from this kind of technology will not have far-reaching consequences to the environment as is the case with the current aircraft models.
Emirates should also consider acquiring its ground equipment that uses natural energy sources in their operations.
Buses, taxis, and other freight carriers operating at the Dubai Airport should strictly be powered by natural energies, such as solar energy, to curb the overall carbon footprint that is associated with Emirates’ operations.
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