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In December, the aviation department at Cox Enterprises in Atlanta, Ga., will be receiving its first shipment of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). The conglomerate – which has communications, media and automotive services arms – has made sustainability a priority since 2007, when it rolled out its Cox Conserves program.
Since then, the company has invested millions in sustainability projects and realized 148,000 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) offsets. It aims to be carbon neutral by 2044.
With such a progressive agenda, it’s no surprise that John Hatfield, vice-president of aviation at Cox Enterprises, is among those leading the charge for business aviation’s adoption of SAF. He was one of six panel members who participated in an important session at the National Business Aviation Association’s 2019 Business Aviation Convention and Exhibition (NBAA-BACE), held in Las Vegas, Nev., from Oct. 22-24.
“I want my SAF,” was not only the name of the session but also the rallying call of its panel participants, who also included Pete Bunce, president and CEO of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA); David Coleal, president of Bombardier Aviation; Gurhan Andac, engineering leader, aviation fuels and additives at GE Aviation; Gene Holloway, chief sustainability officer at Aerion Supersonic Corp.; and Kevin Welsh, executive director of the Federal Aviation Administration’s office of environment and energy.
Moderated by NBAA TV anchor Raquel Rodriguez, the session highlighted the fact that SAF is safe for use and available now. In fact, many of the business aircraft that flew to NBAA used some form of SAF for the flight.
“Sustainable aviation fuel exists,” asserted NBAA president Ed Bolen at the beginning of the BACE session. “It’s being demonstrated and it’s being used. This is our future. This is our pathway. This is our commitment.”
According to the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Coalition, the attraction of SAF is that operators don’t need to do anything special to use it.
As a blend of conventional Jet A/A-1 fuel with added synthetic fuel blending agents, SAF can be added to the tanks of any aircraft that currently use standard Jet A or Jet A-1 fuel. Flight manuals, pilot operating handbooks or other documents do not need to be revised in order to use SAF, and no special or additional aircraft maintenance is required.
Using SAF has been shown to deliver a significant reduction in CO2 lifecycle emissions compared to straight fossil fuels. For example, a SAF Coalition brochure indicates that “a large cabin modern business jet on a 1,000 nautical mile mission might burn enough fuel to produce ~22,787 pounds of CO2. If such a flight were to use SAF . . . at a blend of 30 per cent SAF to 70 per cent conventional Jet A fuel, the same mission would result in a net reduction of CO2 emissions of ~4,100 pounds (18 per cent) on a lifecycle basis.”
SAF is proven. So, why aren’t we using it?
With the world focused on reducing the environmental impacts of industry, including aviation, it’s time for bizav to take a leading role in using and promoting SAF.
But the panelists said a lack of awareness and availability are major impediments to the adoption of the more environmentally friendly fuel.
The bottom line is, owners and operators need to start asking for SAF at their local airports.
“It’s about being at the tip of the spear and leading by example,” said Hatfield. “Availability is there, but demand is what will drive availability. Currently, all SAF fuel made today is by World Energy in California and is shipped around the country by rail. That’s where costs are incurred because of logistics. There’s a rumour [SAF is] seven times more expensive – that’s false. It is a little bit more, but as demand increases it will drive the price down.”
Hatfield said he’s spoken to several fuel providers who say they are willing to make the investment in stocking the fuel if demand supports it.
“The business aviation sector can send a demand signal to increase production of these alternative fuels,” said the FAA’s Welsh. The regulator is now working with international partners to determine the lifecycle emissions benefits of SAF and define a global agreed-upon standard.
“Aviation has realized over 70 per cent improved efficiency since 1991 as an industry,” he continued. “The 2050 goal is to cut emissions 50 per cent below 2005 levels. Alternative fuels will play a major role in helping achieve that goal.”
During testing, Aerion’s AS2 supersonic jet will be powered by SAF.
“Aerion’s corporate culture is committed to the environment,” said Holloway. “It is necessary to educate people, and one of the biggest challenges we have is to dispel the myths about it. SAF is ready for use today, in any turbine aircraft using traditional Jet A fuel.”
Coleal – who is also chair of GAMA’s environment committee – agreed, adding that when an aircraft leaves the Bombardier facility it has SAF in its tanks.
“As an industry, we have to do a much better job with the awareness and outreach. Our livelihood relies on developing this technology.”
He added that while business and commercial aviation together account for two per cent of worldwide CO2 emissions – and “bizav is two per cent of two per cent” – aviation remains the only industry to have “clear and measurable goals” to reduce its impact on the environment.
With the recent “flight shame” movement taking hold in Europe, along with impassioned pleas from teenage environmental activist Greta Thunberg, the time to adopt SAF and move toward a greener industry is now.
“Quite frankly, if we don’t get moving on this in the very near future, we’ll be overcome by events,” said GAMA’s Bunce. “We as an industry have to get ahead of this. With this focus on the environment comes an opportunity for us. You can get SAF today.
“Start asking for it, and we can shape our own future.”
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