Airbus to test biofuels when available

GENEVA Thu Jan 21, 2010 1:20pm EST

An Airbus A-380 aircraft rolls on a tarmac before taking-off at Zurich airport January 21, 2010. The Airbus A-380 is for the first time in Switzerland to test and confirm its compatibility at the Swiss airports of Zurich and Geneva. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

An Airbus A-380 aircraft rolls on a tarmac before taking-off at Zurich airport January 21, 2010. The Airbus A-380 is for the first time in Switzerland to test and confirm its compatibility at the Swiss airports of Zurich and Geneva.

Credit: Reuters/Arnd Wiegmann

GENEVA (Reuters) - Airbus Industrie is sure that biofuels, the 'green' hope of the aviation sector, will work in its planes and is looking forward to testing them, a senior official for the European airliner builder said on Thursday.

"If there is biofuel available we will do the flights, but we have absolutely no reason to believe there would be any problem," Rainer Ohler, senior vice-president for public affairs and communications told a news conference.

Ohler said Airbus, a subsidiary of EADS, had successfully tested gas-to-liquid fuel for Qatar Airways two years ago. The resulting fuel was as effective as normal jet fuel or kerosene, but without the sulphur smell.

While this offered an alternative to jet fuel, it did not reduce carbon emissions which biofuels promised. Unlike oil, biofuels can be constantly replenished and harvested.

But the process for synthesizing fuel from gas, known as the Fischer-Tropsch process, could equally be used on biofuels, Ohler said ahead of the trial flight to Geneva of Airbus's new 850-passenger capacity A380 airliner.

Airbus is planning to test biofuels with JetBlue Airways. Its American rival Boeing, with which Airbus is cooperating on fuel and environment research, has already made several test flights using biofuel.

Paul Steele, executive director of the Air Transport Action Group (ATAG), an industry association for airlines, airports, planemakers and others in the aviation sector, said the biofuels targeted by the industry would be environmentally friendly.

They would not draw on food crops, require farmland or use excessive fresh water, in contrast to some crops used for producing motor fuel, he said.

The most promising crops are jatropha and camelina, but the industry also sees huge potential in producing biofuel from algae and plants that grow in salty water known as halophytes.

Ohler called on regulators to ensure that the aviation industry had priority access to biofuels, as other forms of alternative fuel, such as electricity, were not practical for planes.

Giovanni Bisignani, director-general of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which groups 230 airlines, urged governments and oil companies to subsidize and invest in research in biofuel production.

(Reporting by Jonathan Lynn; Editing by Stephanie Nebehay)

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