The idea of a commercial flight powered by biofuel is something that many would think would appeal to environmental campaigners, but the Thomson flight which will be travelling to the Canary Islands on Thursday is doing so amongst a great deal of controversy. An engine on the plane will be running on a biofuel and standard fuel mixture. The biofuel is made from used cooking oil.
Environmental campaigners have said that this is nothing more than a gimmick and is actually going to do the environment more harm than good. Thompson however have hailed this new flight as showing that the airline industry is capable of moving beyond fossil fuels.
The government has generally been supportive of the flight, aviation Minister Theresa Villiers has commented, “sustainable fuels are an important way for us to tackle our changing climate. Aviation is an industry that does not really have another low carbon alternative and the sector must explore alternative options. The UK wants to see the aviation industry grow but we are well aware we must also address the environmental problems that it brings.”
The reality of using biofuel to power flights is not bright. Statistically, biofuel will never be able to provide enough fuel to power more than a small fraction of the aviation industry. The biofuel campaigner for Friends of the Earth, Kenneth Richter, has said, “The production of biofuel is damaging rainforests and causing food to be more expensive. Using them in aviation is not going to make flying any more environmentally friendly. The government needs to take a different attitude by stopping the expansion of airports and improving rail services.”
Biofuels were once praised by the Green community as being a great alternative to fossil fuels but now they are widely regarded as even more destructive than the fossil fuels they intended to replace. Many people have tried to cash in on the demand for biofuels and this has led to massive destruction of rainforests in countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia.
Pressure groups have said that they want to delay the use of biofuels until they have been standards established to make sure that the fuels have come from sustainable sources. This is challenging because the demand for oil from plants is far greater than the supply available.
This flight however, is being flown with entirely sustainable fuel. The Rolls-Royce engines on the Boeing 757 are powered by waste oil that has been cleaned. Thompson admits that in reality this is a very small fraction of biofuel.
Aviation is a major contributor to greenhouse gases and trends show the amount of gas produced is increasing. Air transport is exempt from the Kyoto protocol but soon the European Union will be involving aviation in the emissions trading scheme. This will penalise airlines who have higher emissions compared to others in the industry.