First UK biofuel flight – aviation history or PR stunt?

Thomson Airways has become the first UK-based airline to run a biofuel powered fully commercial passenger flight in what is being hailed either as a breakthrough for sustainable aviation or dismissed as a PR stunt.

Today (October 6) the plane, a Boeing 757-200 carrying 232 passengers, took off from Birmingham Airport for Arrecife at 2.25pm for a four hour flight.

According to Thomson Airways the flight reinforces the carrier’s position at the ‘forefront of sustainable aviation’.

With an emission rate of 75g CO2 per passenger kilometre flown the biofuel powered flight has, according to the airline, a ‘significantly lower than average emission rates’ for both low cost and full service scheduled carriers.

Thomson Airways managing director, Chris Browne, said: “This is a very exciting day for Thomson Airways and a further step in our commitment to invest in sustainable aviation biofuel.

“We firmly believe the adoption of sustainable biofuels by airlines will help achieve the Government’s carbon budget which commits the UK to reduce its carbon emissions by 50% by 2025.

“Most strikingly, sustainable biofuel has the potential to reduce aviation emissions by up to 80% in the long term.”

The flight has already been backed by the UK government with aviation minister, Theresa Villiers, saying: “I very much welcome Thomson Airways’ announcement and 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.”

However, FoE called the flight ‘a hollow PR stunt’ paving the way for ‘rainforest destruction’.

The biofuels used, which Thompson claim are sustainably sourced through a business in the Netherlands and independently accredited, include virgin plant oil from the US and babassu nuts from Brazil which are both in ‘short supply’, according to FoE.

FoE biofuels campaigner, Kenneth Richter, said: “Biofuels won’t make flying any greener – their production is wrecking rainforests, pushing up food prices and causing yet more climate-changing emissions.

“The government must curb future demand for flights by halting airport expansion, promoting video conferencing, and developing faster, better and affordable rail services.”

Luke Walsh

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