Thomson Airways to become first UK sustainable jet biofuels operator as it announces start of weekly flights
Fri 1 July 2011 – UK holiday airline Thomson Airways is to operate the UK’s first sustainable biofuel commercial flight at the end of this month and start regular weekly flights from September on routes from Birmingham. A 50/50 blend of used cooking oil and regular jet kerosene is being supplied by Netherlands-based SkyNRG, which has sourced the biofuel from Dynamic Fuels in the United States. It will be the same blend of fuel as that used on a KLM flight from Amsterdam to Paris earlier this week. Thomson called on the UK and EU governments to help reduce the significant premium of sustainable aviation biofuels over conventional fuels by incentivising investment. Welcoming the airline’s announcement and the aviation industry’s drive towards technological change, UK Aviation Minister Theresa Villiers said the fuels had a role to play in efforts to tackle climate change.
The first flight to use the biofuel will take place on July 28 on a journey from Birmingham to Palma, once a stringent testing process has been completed and final safety clearance has been received. Although hydro-processed, or so-called HEFA, fuels have been approved by standards body ASTM International for commercial use, final rubber-stamping is still to be completed over the coming weeks.
At this stage, the plan is to operate weekly biofuel flights for one year from Birmingham to Palma in the summer and from Birmingham to Alicante in the winter, using a Rolls-Royce-powered Boeing 757-200. The airline says that as the fuels become more commercially viable, it plans to use them across its fleet over the next three years.
Birmingham Airport will be supporting the operation through provision of a dedicated fuel truck, independent oversight and storage infrastructure.
The airline says it has placed sustainability in aviation at the top of its list of priorities and the biofuel had undergone rigorous sustainability testing in line with the requirements set out by the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels (RSB).
“Sustainable biofuels offer us the opportunity to improve our own individual environmental performance as well as contributing to the UK’s carbon reduction target,” said Chris Browne, Managing Director of Thomson Airways.
“Sustainability is key to this investment,” added the airline’s Environment Manager, Deirdre Kotze. “SkyNRG’s robust approach on this matter played a big role in giving them our confidence.”
Set up as a consortium by KLM two years ago, SkyNRG is advised by an independent Sustainability Board comprising of two environmental NGOs and an academic institute, and is an active supporter of the RSB. The company describes itself as a one-stop shop for airlines, integrating the complete feedstock-to-flight supply chain process.
“We have tried to make the entry barrier for airlines to embrace this new fuel era as low as possible,” said Dirk Kronemeijer, SkyNRG’s Managing Director. “Being selected as supplier for Thomson Airways is therefore a big deal for us as it proves that we are on the right track to help create this industry.”
However, Thomson says the significant premium attached to sustainable aviation biofuels was itself unsustainable for the airline industry.
“We urge UK and EU governments to use this opportunity to review the legislation and remove the barriers around sustainable biofuels so that other airlines can follow our lead,” said Browne.
Welcoming the Thomson Airways announcement, UK Aviation Minister Theresa Villiers said: “I wish them well with this project. The government believes that sustainable biofuels have a role to play in efforts to tackle climate change, particularly in sectors where no other viable low carbon energy source has been identified – as is the case with aviation.
“We want aviation to flourish and grow but we have also been clear that the environmental impacts of flying must be addressed. I welcome the efforts being made by the UK aviation and aerospace industries to drive forward the technological change we need to tackle this challenge effectively.”
As part of the TUI Travel airline group, Thomson Airways has committed to reducing carbon emissions by 6% between 2008 and 2014. Operating with one of the highest load factors in the UK industry, it claims to be amongst the most efficient. The airline is the UK launch customer for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, with the first aircraft due to be delivered next year. The Dreamliner is expected to be 20% more fuel efficient than similar sized commercial aircraft.