Why SAF is central to Malaysia Airlines’ Fuel Strategy (Opinion)

Written by Sumit Singh, deputy editor of Simple Flying.

With net-zero aviation a target for airlines across the continents, lowering GHG emissions is a top priority for Malaysia Airlines. Amid this mission, Simple Flying recently caught up with Malaysia Airlines UK regional manager, Daniel Bainbridge, about the carrier’s fuel strategy.

Industry-wide challenges

Across numerous businesses, especially airlines, one of the most considerable commercial pressures is regarding the cost and distribution of jet fuelMalaysia Airlines highlights that fuel will remain a very significant part of its company. Therefore, it tries to minimize fuel burn as much as possible by operating fuel-efficient aircraft effectively. 

Nonetheless, fuel is certainly a concern for the firm. Last month, it announced that it is implementing a fuel surcharge to offset some of the increased cost of fuelthrough the price that passengers pay. Overall, this field is a significant challenge at the moment, and there is a looming question of how long the conditions will last. This factor makes it harder for carriers, including Malaysia Airlines, to forecast. It also makes it more difficult for them to plan their business accordingly. Altogether, the airline just has to adjust as best it can.

Even after the aviation industry overcomes the immediate challenges, fuel supply is something that will continue to have airlines grappling with in the long term due to the ever-changing requirements of the market.

Getting the ball rolling

With the industry looking to double down on its efforts cut down on emissions in this next chapter, sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) is a central focus this decade. Malaysia Airlines proudly operated its first flight with SAF last December. One of its Airbus A330s departed Amsterdam Schiphol to head to Kuala Lumpur International Airport with 77 tonnes worth of a 38% SAF blend made from sources such as used cooking oil.

Malaysia Airlines emphasized that it expects SAF to be a key part of its strategy to deliver a more sustainable travel experience for its passengers. This is an aspect that Daniel Bainbridge is keen to note.

“It’s really exciting to be able to operate a flight with a blend of sustainable aviation fuel. It’s a really important part of what we are doing in terms of our sustainability commitments. We’re committed to net-zero by 2050. Obviously, there’s a lot that we need to do to get to that place, but operating our first flight with a blend of SAF is just one of the very early steps to show that we can do that.”

Collaboration is key

Yet, despite the ambitious targets, existing supply woes transition into the new era. Overall, there needs to be greater cooperation between aviation stakeholders, including authorities, to make the transformation more feasible from an operational and financial standpoint.

“One of the challenges with SAF is getting enough produced in a suitably economic level. It’s helpful if governments can encourage the use of sustainable aviation fuel because then it encourages suppliers and refineries to come together and produce in quantities which are very helpful. That’s the short-term immediate challenge – to try and to get over the supply fees to ensure that there is enough appropriately sustainable aviation fuel that airlines can then use to operate or include in their fleets to ensure they’re operating as sustainably as they want to be. But it’s definitely important to Malaysia Airlines.”

All in all, SAF will combine well with the airline’s modern twinjets, such as the Airbus A350, which is deployed on long-haul routes to the likes of London. The carrier is also utilizing additional technology, including GE Digital’s Aviation Software solutions, which have been helping to reduce fuel burn by 15%. 

With Malaysia relaxing travel restrictions and the industry’s recovery continuing, we can expect further breakthroughs in the SAF space. Malaysia Airlines will be determined to continue its progress in this scene in the coming years.

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