Biofuel powered aircraft set to fly

Canada’s Porter Airlines will become the first carrier in the country to conduct a biofuel-powered flight this month.

Porter, who already undertook a test flight in February this year, plans to make the commercial flight in mid-April to coincide with Earth Day, the company’s chief executive said.

“We are timing our biofuel-powered flight close to Earth Day to emphasize the contribution that biofuels are expected to make in helping the aviation industry meet its targeted reduction in emissions,” CEO Robert Deluce said in a statement.

The flight on one of Porter’s fleet of Bombardier Q400 turboprop airliners will use a 50/50 blend of biofuels and regular jet propulsion fuel.

The event will be a first for Canada, whose aviation industry is lagging behind America in the switch to biofuels.

Last November, Continental Airlines took the prize for the first revenue passenger trip in the U.S. powered by biofuels. On a domestic flight between Houston and Chicago a 737 was fueled with 60 per cent traditional petroleum-based jet fuel and 40 per cent aviation biofuel made from algae oil.

Aviation regulators approved the use of biofuels last summer. Shortly afterwards, KLM Royal Dutch became the first airline in the world to operate a commercial flight with the environmentally-friendly fuels.

Porter Airlines, which operates domestic runs in Canada and down the eastern seaboard of the United States, including to New York and Washington, said the biofuel portion of its fuel mix was derived from two varieties of oilseed – Camelina sativa and Brassica carinata.

The two varieties belong to the family of flowering plants known as Brassicaceae, which also includes cabbages and turnips.

The company said its Q400 aircraft, built in Toronto by plane manufacturer Bombardier, were already a greener alternative to many existing craft, using up to 40 per cent less fuel and producing up to 40 per cent fewer emissions on routes where they had replaced similar-capacity, older jets.

“During the flight, the Q400 aircraft successfully undertook several maneuvers including engine-out climbs, rapid engine accelerations and cruising to verify the performance of the aircraft while using the bio-derived fuel,” said Mike Arcamone, the president of Bombardier Commercial Aircraft.

The change to greener fuels has been prompted in part by a hike in oil prices. Airlines are also keen to reduce their carbon footprint to comply with the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) self-imposed goals to reach CO2-neutral growth by 2020 and achieve a 50 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions from 2005 levels by 2050.

However, the use of biofuels still remains contentious in some quarters because of the impact of the resources used to produce that biomass. If the biomass is taking away from food production or grown on cleared rainforest land like the commonly used palm oil, then the positives quickly diminish.

Paul Willis, EarthTechling