About Us

Air New Zealand declares first jatropha biofuel flight a success

Jan 5, 2009 - Tom Green - BusinessGreen

Jatropha as jet fuel
Air New Zealand's blend of 50 per cent jatropha and 50 per cent standard jet fuel was used to power one engine during a flight over Auckland

Air New Zealand last week successfully completed the world's first test flight of a commercial airliner running on a jatropha-based biofuel, and immediately announced that it would now begin work to have the fuel certified for use in passenger jets.

A blend of 50 per cent jatropha and 50 per cent standard jet fuel was used to power one engine during the two hour flight over Auckland, New Zealand, while a series of in-flight tests were carried out.

Chief Pilot on the flight, Captain David Morgan, said the biofuel performed well through both the fuel system and engine.

"To complete our testing programme our engineers will be thoroughly assessing the engine and fuel systems looking for any changes as a result of the use of biofuel," he said. "Together with our partners on this project we will then review all the results as part of our drive to have jatropha certified as an aviation fuel."

The test flight was a joint initiative between Air New Zealand, Boeing, Rolls-Royce and Honeywell's UOP, with support from Terasol Energy.

Experts have voiced concerns that biofuels may prove ineffective at high altitudes because such fuels tend to have higher freezing temperatures than conventional fuels. However, tests were successfully completed at various altitudes and under a variety of operating conditions to measure the biofuel's performance through the engine and fuel system.

Rob Fyfe, chief executive officer of Air New Zealand, said it is Air New Zealand's long-term goal to become the world's most environmentally sustainable airline. "We stand at the earliest stages of sustainable fuel development and it is exciting to be a part of this important moment in aviation history," he said.

Environmental groups have raised concerns over the extent to which the aviation industry can rely on biofuels before increased demand for energy crops leads to increased deforestation and rising food prices. However, advocates of jatropha-based fuels claim that the plant can be grown effectively on marginal land and does not displace other crops.

Air New Zealand said it had sourced and refined its jatropha oil from environmentally sustainable farms in South Eastern Africa and India.

The airline is just one of a number of operators currently racing to develop an officially certified biofuel-based aviation fuel. Last year, Virgin Atlantic successfully completed a test flight using a blend of aviation fuel and babussa oil and is currently working on an algae-based fuel, while Continental airlines announced before Christmas that it hopes to become the first US operator to power a commercial jet using biofuel in a demonstration flight on this Wednesday.