BRISTOL An Airbus A380, the world's largest
airliner, became the first commercial jet aircraft to use
alternative fuel on Friday, marking a milestone on the road to
The double-decker A380 needed no modification to use the
gas-to-liquid (GTL) fuel, which was designed to be mixed with
regular jet fuel so "the airplane does not know the
difference," Airbus said.
Airbus hopes the plane, hit by production delays, will
become the centerpiece of efforts to develop the next
generation of cleaner fuel at a time when the aviation industry
is under pressure over the impact of emissions on the climate.
Sebastien Remy, head of Airbus SAS's alternative fuel
program, said the GTL used on Friday was no cleaner in CO2
(carbon dioxide) terms than regular fuel but it had local air
quality benefits because it produces no sulphur.
He said the take-off showed Airbus was "preparing for (the)
emergence of a wider slate of synthetic fuels."
By 2025, he said, a quarter of jet fuel could be some form
of alternative fuel.
The fuel used, a mix of 60 percent standard jet kerosene
and 40 percent GTL, was used in one of the A380's four engines.
The GTL was made in Malaysia from natural gas and, as such,
is a fossil fuel not a biofuel, which are made from renewable
But Remy said GTL was the first step to developing BTL
(biomass-to-liquid) fuel, which can use anything from wood
chips to crops.
He wants to avoid competing with food crops, and said the
research emphasis was on growing biomass where food crops are
not grown, such as arid regions.
Eventually, algae could be one source.
The A380's take-off from the planemaker's Filton base was
watched by reporters and hundreds of Airbus workers. It landed
at Toulouse, southwest France, after a three-hour test flight.
The first A380 to carry passengers entered service with
Singapore Airlines late last year after an 18-month delay
caused by difficulties in installing the mammoth aircraft's
Anxious to focus on what it describes as the aircraft's
environmental benefits, in terms of the amount of fuel consumed
per passenger, Airbus has already rebranded the A380 the
"gentle green giant," and softened its marketing presentations.
Airbus staged Friday's display weeks before British
billionaire Richard Branson's Virgin Group planned to conduct a
test jet flight on renewable fuels on a Boeing 747.
The company has said it plans a flight in early 2008 and
the debut had been expected in February. The A380 was designed
to break the 747's 30-year monopoly on very large passengers
He said the first commercial use of GTL could be in 2009 by
Qatar Airways after it has taken delivery of its first A380.
Qatar has the world's third-largest reserves of natural gas
and Shell and Qatar Petroleum are building a GTL plant, called
Pearl, which is due to be fully operational by 2011.
Qatar Airways's Stephen Vella said the airline wanted to
use a 50 percent GTL blend from 2009 but only on a limited
scale until Pearl is complete.
"The new fuels will not be limited to the airline industry,
but could easily be adapted to power cars," Remy said.
(Reporting by Dan Lalor; Editing by David Cowell)