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Beautiful sunset while refueling an airplane.

Airbus pioneers its first sustainably-fueled jets in the USA


Airbus has delivered its first five sustainably-fueled aircraft in the USA. The A321 jets were sent to New-York-based carrier JetBlue, with the first plane arriving on September 20 and the rest by the end of 2018. This marks a new era for Airbus and is part of a wider move to reduce CO2 emissions in the aviation industry.

The sustainably-fueled Airbus A321

White Airbus A321 flying in the sky surrounded by clouds.
White Airbus A321 flying in the sky surrounded by clouds.

The Airbus A321s use a blend of traditional and 15.5 percent renewable fuel that has been certified by Air BP and approved by the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA). This sustainable fuel blend has actually been available to customers from Airbus’ Toulouse facility since 2016 as part of the European ITAKA, the Initiative Towards sustAinable Kerosene for Aviation. However, this is the first time the jets have been delivered from Airbus’ U.S. facilities in Mobile, Alabama. Frederic Eychenne, Head of New Energies at Airbus, says: “Our goal is to source sustainable fuels in the southeastern United States. It is an opportunity to work closely with local stakeholders to scale-up production and the commercialization of sustainable aviation fuels in the region.”

Further demonstrating its eco credentials, Airbus also recently achieved its ISO 14001 certification. This voluntary certification sets a standard for environmental management systems, with the goal of reducing pollution and damage from fossil fuels. Airbus is the first aircraft manufacturer to be issued the ISO 14001 across all its services, sites and products.

Renewable goals for the aviation industry

According to the International Air Transport Association, in 2017 air transport accounted for 859 million tonnes of CO2. That’s two percent of global CO2 emissions and 12% of the total transport sector’s emissions; figures that are only set to increase unless the industry takes action. According to Airbus’ 2018 global market forecast, air transport will increase 4.4 percent year-on-year until 2037.

The aviation industry has pledged to halve its net CO2 emissions by 2050. To help achieve this, in 2016 the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) launched CORSIA, a carbon offsetting and reduction scheme. The European Commission has also launched Flightpath 2050 targets to reduce CO2 emissions by 75 percent per passenger kilometre by 2050.

“The airline industry has ambitious carbon reduction targets, which in a growing industry will only be achieved with support from across the entire supply chain,” says Matt Elliot, Air BP’s Chief Commercial Officer. He continues: “We are working closely with airlines and aircraft manufacturers, such as Airbus, to drive change by promoting and securing the supply of sustainable alternative jet fuel.”

The ICAO estimates that if all aviation fuel was replaced with biofuel by 2050, this would reduce the industry’s net CO2 emissions by 65 percent. JetBlue also hopes that adopting renewable fuels will mitigate the impact of changing fuel markets in the future.

Speaking of the company’s new Airbus A321s, JetBlue Chief Executive Officer Robin Hayes says: “This is another example of JetBlue acknowledging that a sustainable future for aviation will require cooperation between all parts of the industry. Renewable jet fuel affirms JetBlue’s belief that we can help define our industry’s future path.”

Other eco developments in aviation

Blurred airplane on the runway, with greenery in the foreground.
Blurred airplane on the runway, with greenery in the foreground.

In December 2018, Shell Aviation and Sky NRG also began supplying their own alternative fuels for aviation, produced by World Energy. The blend is created from used cooking oil, which boasts lower lifecycle CO2 emissions than normal jet fuels. This is now offered at San Francisco International Airport for the airlines KLM, Finnair and SAS.

To further reduce emissions and global warming, the aviation industry is also developing a new generation of eco-friendly electric and hybrid aircraft. Airbus have teamed up with Siemens and Rolls-Royce to create a new range of hybrid planes, with the latest model dubbed the E-Fan X. One of the E-Fan X’s four engines has been replaced with an electric fan and motor and uses a gas turbine to power an electric generator. The two-seater jet is aimed at short-haul commercial flights and is due to be launched in 2020.

Several other electric aircraft projects are also in development, including Wright Electric’s partnership with EasyJet to run short-haul zero-emission flights; and Zunum Aero, a Boeing collaboration with JetBlue Technology Ventures. The hybrid Zunum Aero can carry 12 people and has a range of 700 miles. It’s meant as a transitional aircraft and the company hopes to switch the Zunum to full electrical power over the next decade.

To make electric planes more viable, the industry needs to develop better batteries that have a higher energy density. You can read more about the future of electric aviation and planes here.

All quotes in this article have been sourced from the Airbus press release about their sustainable jet fuels, which you can read in full here.

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