AirAsia keen on introducing biofuel-powered flights

CEO says R&D into aviation biofuels requires studies on how the alternative fuel burns compared to kerosene-based jet fuels


LOW-COST carrier AirAsia Group Bhd could be introducing biofuel-powered flights in the future with research and development (R&D) underway as airlines want to cut jet fuel costs and reduce carbon emissions.

Group CEO Tan Sri Dr Tony Fernandes (picture) said the airline is keen to get further involved in aviation biofuels, but the company may not be able to do that on its own. Fernandes said such R&D into aviation biofuels requires studies on how the alternative fuel burns compared to kerosene-based jet fuels.

He said technical support from airframe maker Airbus SE would facilitate the progress of the aviation biofuels development for the group.

“It is too early to comment right now, but obviously, we as an airline would like to do more in biofuels. We cannot do it alone. So, it is great that Airbus supports our vision of trying to get biofuels into the aircraft. Hopefully, that dream is not so far away with Airbus’ support,” Fernandes said after the signing ceremony of AirAsia’s 42 new aircraft orders with Airbus in Kuala Lumpur last Friday.

At the same ceremony, Airbus announced that the company will also increase its participation in the Aerospace Malaysia Innovation Centre (AMIC) by providing more funds for joint research programmes including aviation biofuels in Malaysia.

This is part of its US$120 million (RM505 million) planned investments announced last week which comprise three initiatives to boost Malaysia’s aviation and aerospace industry.

The three initiatives are to expand its wholly owned maintenance facility Sepang Aircraft Engineering Sdn Bhd, establish the Airbus Malaysia Digital Initiative and increase participation in AMIC.

AirAsia has played a key role in identifying these initiatives and worked together with Airbus at its initial stage.

Under the initiatives for AMIC, Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury said the programmes benefitting from additional funding would include subjects such as alternative and sustainable aviation biofuels.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has approved a resolution that calls on governments to continue working towards the implementation of CORSIA, the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation. CORSIA, which was agreed through the United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organisation, caps net carbon dioxide emissions from international aviation at 2020 levels to achieve carbon-neutral growth.

The first test flight with biojet fuel was performed by Virgin Atlantic in 2008.

As at June 2019, more than 180,000 commercial flights using sustainable aviation fuels have been performed, according to IATA.

Some major carriers have targeted larger-scale usage of biofuel in 2019 and 2020, including JetBlue Airways Corp and Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd, according to Bloomberg.

Last week, AirAsia confirmed orders of 42 new aircraft with Airbus in a deal valued over US$5 billion.

Its long-haul unit AirAsia X Bhd signed agreements on firm orders with Airbus for an additional 12 units of A330neo and 30 A321XLR aircraft.

The additional A330neo brings AirAsia X’s orders for the aircraft to 78 — Airbus’ largest airline customer for the type.

Additionally, the A321XLR orders strengthen the discount carrier as the world’s largest airline customer for the A320 family at a total of 622 aircraft.

Fernandes said the new airplanes would allow the airline to develop routes such as in India, China and Eastern Europe.

The first delivery for the A330neo is expected to begin by the middle of next year and the A321XLR in 2023.