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The global aviation sector is committed to an aggressive set of goals to reduce atmospheric carbon emissions from aircraft. This includes annual average fuel economy improvements of 1.5 percent through the year 2020 and carbon neutral growth beyond that point in time. Aviation manufacturers continue to gain efficiency through the development of new aircraft, engine and air traffic management technologies. Instrumental to achieving these goals, however, is the development and certification of sustainable aviation biofuels.
Aerospace manufacturers, airlines and the FAA have been increasing their investment in alternative jet fuels since the creation of the Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative (CAAFI) in 2006. Manufacturers continue to invest resources in CAAFI, FAA’s Continuous Low Emissions, Environment and Noise (CLEEN) program and several international partnerships. Like any emerging technology, biofuels are still higher in price than their competition, traditional petroleum. This price, however, is lowering. The per gallon cost of second generation biofuels on some federal contracts has dropped as much as 90 percent in the past two years, and most observers expect the costs to continue dropping as the technologies scale to commercial production. Given global environmental concerns and current fuel prices, we will not meet the projected growth in air travel unless we show sustained progress in alternative fuels.
In this effort, we are fortunate to have the Department of Defense as a partner. As it turns out, the DOD is the single largest consumer of energy in the nation and 75 percent of that amount goes to support military operations. Our military forces in Afghanistan consume 1.8 million gallons of fuel each day – fuel that must be transported over poor and sometimes contested roads. In addition, DOD Understanding to construct biofuels production facilities under the Defense Production Act. This MOU commits the departments of Defense, Agriculture and Energy to each provide $170 million, with at least the same amount coming from non-federal sources on a matching basis. In addition, each military service has programs to research and evaluate biofuels for aircraft, ship and other defense applications.
The federal government’s participation will help us move more quickly to develop commercially viable alternative fuels by simultaneously demonstrating the efficacy of large scale production and reducing unit costs to more competitive levels. Over the past dozen years, the price of fuel paid by U.S. airlines has risen by 286 percent – more than any other expense. Today this fuel expense represents, on average, 35 percent of airline operating costs.
Of additional concern, the European Union has brought aviation into their Emissions Trading Scheme which will only add cost to airlines going to and coming from Europe. If commercial aviation is to meet the demands of growing economies around the world and the United States is to remain a global aviation leader, industry and government will need to do all they can to make the promise of certified biofuels into a reality.
AIA Source: rich.efford[at]aia-aerospace.org