Virgin Atlantic biofuel flight to use coconut and babassu oil

The Australian is calling the Virgin Atlantic biofuel flight a “stunt”. The fact that a Virgin publicity exercise involving Richard Branson is being called a stunt shouldn’t really come as a surprise to anyone.

What is a surprise to me is that after reading the press release I am disappointed with Virgin Atlantic. Here was a great opportunity to show the world that biofuels were a viable option for airlines. Instead we get an overblown press release about how a flight involving an empty 747 with one engine running on a mixture of coconut and babassu oil:

…marks a biofuel breakthrough for the whole airline industry.

The truth is this is a test flight of which we know very little detail. Before the results have been collected Virgin is trumpeting that they are:

…becoming the first airline in the world to fly on renewable fuel.

and

…is helping to pioneer renewable fuel sources for aviation.

This is stretching the truth too far in my opinion. When any airline can demonstrate the flight of one of their aircraft powered completely by a sustainable biofuel that has been certified for use in that aircraft type we will witness a breakthrough for the whole airline industry. Until then lets keep things in perspective.

I hope the post flight press release contains more detail and less hype.

Source: The Australian, PR Newswire.com

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5 Responses

  1. The flight had 10% of the fuel for 1 of the 4 engines as biofuel. It reminds me of a once popular saying “three fifth’s of five eighth’s of @#$! all” which equated to nothing. If they had modified the plane, or the flight plan, so that it used just 2.5% less fuel then that would have accomplished the same thing. If it had been a car, then putting a bit of extra air in the tyres would have seen a bigger reduction in fuel consumption. Maybe low friction paint (if there is such a thing) could have provided a bigger reduction in aviation fuel consumption. If there were more airports, so that planes didn’t have to go into holding patterns once they got to their destination, it would reduce fuel consumption. We have to think outside the box and be realistic. We need to continue to strip off the advertising hype and get to the facts.

  2. Luke Hallam, well whats got you so hyped up? Just cool down man.

    If the airlines wants to show off, they deserve it bcoz none of the other airlines have the balls to use biodiesel.

    Virgin airlines have done it, so kudos to them. If you dont like it, keep your opinons to yourself and dont post an article about it.

  3. Geoffrey,

    Let’s inject some reality into this debate. Nobody except Virgin Atlantic and their partners in this exercise know what really occurred on this flight. It could have been anything from a full blown test flight to a full blown publicity stunt. Given Richard Branson’s love of publicity stunts I’m leaning towards the later but will happily be proven wrong.

    Even if it was a serious test flight I have to agree with Ben. An empty 747 could quite easily conduct a three engine ferry flight. The fact that the fourth engine was running on 10% biofuel is virtually insignificant because the blend was so weak and the flight could have been conducted without the fourth engine anyway.

    Even Greenflight International isn’t that much of a breakthrough. While they did fly a single engined aircraft on 100% biodiesel, a far more significant feat than this Virgin Atlantic flight, that aircraft was designed to run on heating oil if it had to so the transition to biodiesel wasn’t that risky.

    An airline showing off does not help progress sustainable aviation. We know turbine engines can run on biofuel. The challenge is to find a sustainable biofuel that can be certified for use in most commercial turbine aircraft that is better for the environment than jet fuel. The key words here are certified and sustainable.

    Obtaining certification for a new fuel will be a very large and expensive task involving many ground and flight tests and mountains of paperwork. Finding a sustainable biofuel suitable for aviation will be even harder. It will have to meet the unique demands of aviation and it will have to be produced in very large quantities that meet the certification standard. I don’t see that happening for many years yet but will once again be happy to be proven wrong.

    I sincerely hope Air New Zealand make a credible effort at the biofuel flight they have said they will undertake this year. If they don’t you can be sure that I will be just as critical of them as I have been of Virgin Atlantic.

    If you don’t like what I write feel free to add to an intelligent debate but you are wasting your time telling me to keep my opinions to myself. If I wasn’t interested in putting my opinion forward I wouldn’t have spent a vast number of hours over the last year writing this blog.

    Luke

  4. Luke, your comment makes a lot of sense.

    Dont count on Air Newzealand to do something good for the environment. we in NZ dont promote electric cars, nor carpooling nor hybrid not even electric scooters.

    we’ve got about 4 million people and the mess we make of the environment is so disheartening, these people dont care a damn about the environment.

    all we do is build very few wind parks here and there. no wave energy, biodiesel, biogas, no tidal energy, nothing. this government is screwed i guess, my mistake of voting for them in the last election. however in the next term we’ll have a new government for sure, so lets hope some change.

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