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No Alternative: Both the Message and Means are Clear

Business & Commercial Aviation / William Garvey / June 25, 2019 -- Springtime is marked by budding flowers, red cardinals, marsh frog choruses, showers and gatherings of the air-minded. This year I attended the European Business Aviation Convention and Exhibition (EBACE) in Geneva, Dassault Falcon Jet’s annual hosting of suppliers, operators and maintainers in Wilmington, Delaware, and the JetNet iQ Summit in advance of the National Business Aviation Association regional meeting in White Plains, New York. All those convened within five weeks of each other. And yes, thank you, that’s quite enough time logged in Seat 23A; I’m staying put for the summer.

While the subjects covered at these gatherings were manifold, with news from EBACE alone resulting in hundreds of stories in ShowNews and other convention publications, among others. I expected that. One thing that surprised me, however, was the notable focus on sustainable alternative jet fuel (SAJF) at nearly every one of those

Indeed, EBACE launched with the arrival of a score of display aircraft — from Gulfstreams, Globals and Falcons to a Diamond and TBM — powered by a blend of Jet A and SAJF.  Many of those first assembled at TAG Aviation Farnborough for a “Fueling the Future” conference at which SAJF’s composition and benefits were explained and then promoted. 

This was the third major push for SAJF in business aviation. It was highlighted at the previous EBACE, then in early January at a daylong media event at Van Nuys Airport (KVNY) in California, and most recently at the Farnborough/EBACE promotion. The Van Nuys affair — I arrived on a cross-country flight in an SAJF-burning G280 — was an eye-opener for me.  

Simply put — and there’s nothing simple about this — Jet A can be refined from sources other than petroleum, including municipal waste, non-food plants and used cooking oils, among other things. The process and chemistry varies by the source, but in the end, the SAJF biofuel must meet ASTM standards. The intent is for SAJF to be a drop-in fuel requiring no or little action on the part of the aircraft operator to accommodate its use, and is mixed with petroleum-derived Jet A at ratios ranging from 30:70 to as high as 50:50, depending. 

The goals of the effort are several: that the process of collecting, shipping, refining, delivering and burning SAJF would eventually be carbon neutral; that its use reduces dependence on extraction of a limited natural resource; and as significantly, that it puts users in the Caring column. 

You see, aviation has a problem. Despite all the current focus on aviation’s electric, hybrid electric, fuel cell and drone developments, to go the distance now and in the foreseeable future, turbine-powered airplanes will remain the main transports, and they need Jet A to get them there. And while turbine-engine makers continually and admirably improve the fuel burn rates of their products, the undeniable facts are that combustion produces CO2emissions, and that air transport globally is increasing. As a result, some people — quite a lot of people, actually — object to aviation’s increasing carbon fallout. And they’re gaining voice and power.

SAJF availability is but a trickle in today’s fuel stream. So, the stuff is expensive — three or more times the price of regular Jet A, if you can find it at all. As a result, I was somewhat dismissive about the emphasis business aircraft manufacturers, associations and suppliers were placing on the fuel’s adoption. Our segment’s consumption levels are so extremely modest when compared to that of the airlines, business aviation’s use of the stuff won’t move the needle at all, really. 

But then in discussions with many other event presenters and attendees, another perspective dawned. I’m a total business and general aviation believer. Unlike the commercial carriers, our segment fulfills aviation’s true promise of flexibility and availability, allowing us to go wherever we want, whenever we choose. But despite the industry’s introduction of jet cards, fractionals, clubs, empty leggers and all the other recent use innovations, the convenience comes at a cost that not many can afford. And it is those others who are in the majority, and they vote. 

So, if that group perceives business aviation users as uncaring polluters, bad things could happen. Such as? How about onerous fines, forced carbon offsets, even denied access, and, perhaps, fees based upon the amount of CO2 generated per passenger? The list of ugly possibilities goes on and on.

Irrespective of your assessment of global environmental conditions and causes, supporting the adoption of SAJF and reducing our carbon footprint will be of ever-growing significance to business aviation’s viability. Notably, just as the faithful were making their way to the NBAA regional, the French government was calling upon all European transport ministers to consider imposing significant taxes on aircraft operators to help reduce their CO2 emissions.

An unwelcome springtime meeting of minds, but just a beginning. 


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