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Sustainable Aviation: Navigating the legendary L888 to lower emissions

In today’s world, it’s vital to run businesses in ways that help the planet. But making air travel less harmful to the environment is a big challenge. DHL’s flights along the legendary L888 – the Silk Road Airway – are not only good for our business but also a big win for sustainable aviation.

Turning challenges into sustainable solutions

Tibet and Taklamakan Desert

Aviation is one of the toughest sectors to decarbonize, so every effort to cut carbon emissions counts. Flying the Lima Triple Eight (L888) flight path is one way DHL is helping make the skies greener. But just getting permission to fly over Tibet’s famously challenging terrain was a big achievement on its own.

L888 and the nearby Yankee One (Y1) “feeder” route are well-known among pilots and aviation experts. Often called the Silk Road Airway, they run right across China over the highlands of Tibet, where the Himalayas reach up to 16,000 feet (approx. 5,000 meters) and higher. The air up there is thin, and the mountains make flying tricky, so pilots have to follow special rules.

Before planes can fly over the “roof of the world,” they have to meet some pretty tough safety standards. This is crucial because if something goes wrong, like an engine problem or a sudden loss of cabin pressure, pilots need to act fast. On a normal route over lower terrain, a pilot will normally descend quickly to an altitude of 10,000 feet (approx. 3,000 meters) in an emergency. But that’s not an option over Tibet’s wide, high plateau.

It's about technology and expertise

Airbus A330

Getting the green light to use the L888 route is a big deal for an airline. In February 2024, European Air Transport Leipzig (EAT)[i] became the first DHL airline to fly an Airbus A330 along the awe-inspiring airways.

It took the German airline a whole year to get all the permissions needed for these flights. What helped was that EAT pilots had already been flying part of the route from Hong Kong (China) to Kazakhstan’s capital, Almaty, since March 2023, and a longer flight path stretching further north over less challenging parts of China.

EAT’s Airbus A330 is also the perfect plane for the job. It carries enough oxygen bottles to last until the pilots reach one of the designated escape routes and land at an alternative airport. The plane also has a special system called a Future Air Navigation System (FANS) that enables precise satellite positioning and navigation.

Going above and beyond to cut carbon emissions

By using the L888 and Y1 routes, we save about 20 minutes on each flight, which means using less fuel, saving money, and, importantly, reducing carbon emissions. With six flights a week, the benefits really add up. 

High altitude, big savings

6

Flights per week

20

Fewer minutes per flight

2,000

Kilograms of fuel saved per flight

6,000

Kilograms of carbon emissions saved per flight

From legend to everyday life

The journey to get here was long and full of challenges, but a dedicated effort from a global team finally earned the Civil Aviation Administration of China's green light.

Now, flying this route is simply part of our routine, but the view from the cockpit is always something special. 


[i] European Air Transport Leipzig GmbH (EAT) is a 100% subsidiary of DHL Group and part of DHL Express. Learn more.


Come fly more sustainably with us!

Our L888 flights are just one part of our much bigger goal to lead in sustainable aviation! Sign up for our Delivered newsletter or follow us on social media (links below) as we pilot the way to eco-friendly flying!


European Air Transport Leipzig

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Published: May 2024


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