Despite its small size—handling just 135,000 passengers yearly—Halmstad City Airport (HAD) in June 2017 became one of the first airports in Sweden to offer sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) to its airline customers, scheduled and charter airlines, business aviation, and rescue flight operators. [SAF is also known as sustainable alternative jet fuel (SAJF).]
At the end last year, HAD took its sustainability commitment a step further and implemented a biofuel quota—at least 5 percent on average per year of an airline’s fuel uptake at the airport must be SAF. The airport’s board put SAF on its agenda in 2014 and its plans were fully in line with the goal of Halmstad municipality, HAD’s owner since 2006, to be fossil-free in 2030.
With a 5 percent compulsory biofuel quota HAD has overtaken the ambitions of Swedavia, the Swedish state-owned company that owns and operates 10 of the country’s busiest airports including Stockholm-Arlanda, and of the Swedish government. Swedavia target is for 5 percent of all jet fuel used at its airports to be fossil-free by 2025.
Braathens Regional Airlines (BRA), the largest scheduled carrier operating at HAD, was quickly won over to use biofuel on a regular basis, the airport’s business development manager Anette Holmgren told AIN, pointing to the carrier’s internal goal to have fossil-free operations by 2030. The Sweden-based regional airline in February 2017 performed the first ever biofuel-powered flight of an ATR aircraft when an ATR 72-600 flew from Bromma-Stockholm City Airport (BMA) to Umeå, fueled 45 percent with fossil-free used cooking oil-based fuel. On May 16, the airline again teamed with the European turboprop manufacturer to operate what was dubbed the ‘Perfect Flight,’ with every element of the one-hour flight from HAD to BMA optimized to keep carbon emissions to a minimum.
47 Percent Lower CO2 Emissions
Flight TF703—operated with an ATR 72-600 with 72 passengers on board—took off from HAD in the southwest of Sweden at 10:05 a.m. local time and landed at 11:15 a.m. at BMA, and produced 47 percent less CO2 than the average of the same flights last year. On a per-passenger, per-kilometer basis, the CO2 output was just 33 grams. Emissions of the same BRA flight with only fossil fuel is 63 grams of CO2 per-kilometer per-passenger. The flight was powered by a blend of 50 percent conventional jet fuel and 50 percent SAF—the maximum allowed quantity under current regulations—supplied by Air BP and produced by Neste.
Neste’s sustainable aviation fuel is sourced from non-palm renewable and sustainable materials, in this case, used cooking oil feedstocks. Other elements in the flight management process contributed to reducing the fuel burn—actual fuel savings on the 440 km flight was 116 liters or 1.6 liters per passenger—and carbon emissions. Air traffic control assigned a direct flight path and optimized the altitude for the aircraft type, TF703 Captain Johan Molarin explained. “The Swedish air navigation service provider prioritized the straightest possible route for the flight with a descent at low thrust,” he told AIN. With normal operations, often the opposite occurs and flights to and from BMA get assigned a less optimal flight path as LFV Sweden tends to prioritize air traffic to and from Arlanda, Sweden’s busiest airport, according to Molarin.
The deployment of an ATR turboprop played a critical role in achieving the most climate-efficient passenger flight with current technology, noted BRA CCO Ulrika Matsgård. “We still have a long way to go until we can fly 100 percent fossil-free, but there are many ways to fly in a sustainable manner. That's why we have decided to fly more ATRs. They are the most climate-effective aircraft on the regional market." The airline, formed in 2016 through the merger of Malmö Aviation, Braathens Regional, and the regional airlines of Sverigeflyg, will phase out all its aging Avro RJs by the end of March 2020.
BRA’s fleet consists of 13 ATR 72 turboprops and 10 Avros. Matsgård indicated that the Avros might not be replaced by an equal number of ATRs. “We still have some spare capacity. There is room to use our existing ATR fleet in a more efficient way,” she said. She did not want to disclose how many more ATRs BRA is intending to acquire—buy or lease.
ATR senior vice president of programs and customer services Tom Anderson confirmed talks with BRA for “some” additional ATRs are ongoing. He remained tightlipped on the size of the potential new order, but the discussions were “positive.” Except for some longer sectors, the ATR 72-600 is well suited for BRA’s network and the commitment to reduce its CO2 footprint, he said. “Our ATR 72-600 version uses 40 percent less fuel and emits 40 percent less CO2 than a regional jet like the Bombardier CRJ900 or an Embraer E175.”
Breaking the Vicious Circle
The ‘Perfect Flight’ has highlighted “what is possible when we all work together,” noted Tom Parsons, Air BP’s Biojet commercial development manager, as he called on the need for collaboration from all stakeholders to meet the industry’s collective carbon-reduction goals. Air BP supplies its BP Biojet-branded SAF—which is currently made using recycled cooking oil—at several airports in the Nordics and at Chicago O’Hare in the U.S. BP Biojet is also used by Airbus at its facility in Mobile, Alabama. Air BP was the first operator to supply renewable jet fuel through an airport hydrant fueling system as part of normal operations, at Oslo Airport in 2016 with the SAF produced by Neste. It inked an agreement with Neste in October last year to develop supply chains to ensure that renewable jet fuel is more widely accessible for airline customers.
For Anna Soltorp, head of sustainability at BRA, the ‘Perfect Flight’ demonstrated what can be achieved through more efficient flying without compromising connectivity. The airline wants to “continue to fly ‘perfectly’ in the future,” she said. To achieve this, she emphasized, “It is important that we can access sustainable aviation fuel in sufficient quantities and at the right price. For that, we need political initiatives.”
Andreas Teir, Neste's vice president of renewable transportation, Nordics, challenged the widely held view that the bottleneck is the scarcity of the product, and industry stakeholders—the OEMs, the airlines, the airports—are ready to exponentially step up the use of SAF. “Renewable jet fuel is available,” he insisted.
The Finnish biofuel producer has refineries in Porvoo, Finland, in Rotterdam, and in Singapore, and it is investing €1.4 billion in ramping up the production capacity of the Singapore plant by 1.3 million tonnes, including a 1 million tonne capacity for renewable jet fuel production. This will boost Neste's global renewable production capacity to 4.5 million tonnes annually by 2022. How much of this renewable diesel will be further refined to renewable jet fuel will depend on demand, Teir said. But as a minimum, to secure a strong position in the market, “we are currently ramping up capacity for 100,000 tonnes of renewable jet fuel. This is a lot in the context of cumulative global renewable jet fuel production to date.”
He admits there is a cost impact as renewable jet fuel is more expensive to produce than conventional jet fuel. To break the "lack of demand, small-scale production, uncompetitive prices" vicious circle, “all aviation stakeholders must cooperate to find solutions to bridge the price gap,” he asserted. Several airlines and airports—including BRA, HAD, and Swedavia—have created crowdfunding-like mechanisms to help finance SAF. “I expect to see more of these voluntary opt-in schemes, on a corporate or individual level.”
The right regulatory framework could play an important role to stimulate the more extensive use of biofuel, Teir said, though he noted that the aviation industry typically does not embrace mandates on biofuel quotas imposed by national governments as this could distort the competitive positions and the level playing field.
Some jurisdictions are taking the lead and showing that they can pave the way for more widely adopted regulatory frameworks. For example, Norway is requiring that 0.5 percent of aviation fuel sold in the country will be advanced biofuels, while Sweden in March announced a proposal to introduce a greenhouse gas reduction mandate for aviation fuel sold in the country. The reduction level would be 0.8 percent in 2021 and gradually increase to 27 percent in 2030. The reduction levels are estimated to be the equivalent of 1 percent (11,000 tonnes) SAF in 2021, 5 percent (56,000 tonnes) in 2025, and 30 percent (340,000 tonnes) in 2030. This proposal, if introduced, makes Sweden an undisputed early leader in decarbonizing aviation, Teir concluded.