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Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock

Aviation

SAS starts using biofuel in aircrafts

SAS is the first Scandinavian airline to start using biofuel on some of its flights. This represents a major step toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Aviation accounts for roughly 2% of the world’s total carbon dioxide emissions. While this number is probably lower than most people think, pressure is still increasing to reduce the impact transport has on the climate following last year’s international climate agreement in Paris.

The aviation sector’s ambitious environmental work continues undiminished, and SAS holds a unique position.

“We are driving development in the right direction to contribute to a long-term sustainable society,” says Rickard Gustafson, President and CEO of SAS.Photo: Shutterstock

“We continually renew our aircraft fleet and we buy the biofuel that is available. In just a few years, we expect to seriously increase our use of synthetic fuels based on renewable raw materials. In the long term, we support the vision of the IATA [International Air Transport Association] of being able to fly without any greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.”

These are lofty goals and to achieve them, everything SAS does is ­evaluated from a sustainability perspective.

Significant time is spent increasing energy efficiency by streamlining operational procedures, both in the air and on the ground. This means getting planning right and flying at the right speed and height, and with the right balance. A steady approach and gliding on landing with engines close to idle reduces both noise and fuel consumption.

The basic conditions for how an aircraft can be flown are often the responsibility of air traffic control and airports. Where SAS is unable to make changes itself, work to increase energy efficiency takes place through cooperation and collaboration.

Another aspect of increasing energy efficiency is to work to reduce the weight carried onboard. Two examples are adjusting the amount of water for sinks onboard according to actual need, and providing only digital newspapers onboard.

New aircraft and engine technology are very important in terms of minimizing climate impact. Lars Andersen Resare, who is responsible for environmental and sustainability issues at SAS, says that an increasing number of fuel-efficient aircraft are being put into service on both short- and long-haul flights: the Airbus A330 Enhanced (from 2015), Airbus A320neo (from 2016), and the Airbus A350 (from 2019).Airbus A350 Photo: SAS

“Four new Airbus 330s have just gone into long-haul service,” Andersen Resare says. “They can carry more cargo and more fuel and so can fly farther, giving better fuel efficiency. They are being used to supplement and replace older aircraft to specific destinations, such as Chinese Hong Kong and Miami, and they reduce consumption per passenger by between 10 and 15%. From September 2016, the first Airbus A320neo will be put into service in the short-haul network. It will also replace older aircraft and is expected to reduce fuel consumption by just over 15% per passenger.”

Increased fuel efficiency is not just about new aircraft. SAS continually upgrades its engines and other parts that affect aerodynamics.

“Our strategy is to modify or maintain aircraft, which ensures good fuel efficiency,” Andersen Resare says. “One example is upgrading the engines on the Boeing 737 as part of more extensive maintenance. This means that older aircraft can still have the latest engines. We are also redesigning the aircraft interiors, resulting in more modern cabins and reducing weight.

“All these little things will result in large reductions in emissions over time. Since 2005, SAS has reduced its total carbon dioxide emissions by 14%, even though the number of passengers has increased.”Photo: Shutterstock

The most important thing for SAS and for the airline industry in the long term is still the development of biofuel. There are strict requirements for approved aviation fuel, but Resare says the origin of the biofuel is also important.

“It is extremely important that the raw material for the fuel does not compete with food production or consume drinking water,” he says. “The biofuel we use comes from several sources: residue from forestry products and food waste as well as camelina, an oil-rich plant that grows in poor soil that is unsuitable for traditional food production.”

Having worked on the issue of biofuel for more than 15 years, SAS has now signed a contract for the continuous supply of biofuel at Gardermoen Airport in Oslo. At the moment, bio-jet fuel is considerably more expensive than fossil fuel and is only available in relatively small quantities. The hope is that a gradual increase in the use and large-scale production of biofuel will make prices more commercially viable.

“So far, the rules of the game are unclear, and there is a need for long-term political decisions so that we can continue to minimize the climate impact of aviation,” Andersen Resare says.

“Along with the other major players, we are doing what we can to accelerate commercialization and achieve prices that are more competitive.”

Photo: Shutterstock

SAS is among the lowest emission-producing airlines when comparing equivalent flights. Andersen Resare says that all too often, comparisons are made without taking into account differences in the business models or route networks, which is like comparing apples and oranges.

Available statistics for 2015, however, show that when looking at the service classes SAS Go and SAS Plus, SAS’s transatlantic services can transport 40 passengers 1km on just one liter of jet fuel. This is a measure that is also becoming increasingly important for SAS’s corporate customers who are now placing importance on sustainability.

“We are an airline that is taking genuine responsibility and we can prove it through externally audited data on our reduced climate impact,” Andersen Resare says. “We want those who travel with us to know that they’ve made a really good choice.”

Text: Mats Lundström

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