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IATA: Airlines Need Alternative Fuels

International air passenger traffic grew 6.7% in the first half of 2006 compared to 2005, and international air freight traffic increased 5.2% over the same period, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA). In June, the passenger load factor rose to 78.3%, more than 1.5 percentage points higher than June 2005.

Despite operational improvements and revenue growth, however, the airlines are still losing money mainly due to the spiraling cost of fuel.

The bottom line is all about oil. Prices continue at near record levels and we expect a fuel bill of US$112 billion this year at an average price of US$66 per barrel. Increased political instability in the Middle East does not bode well for a price drop any time soon. The good news is that neither the extraordinary price of oil nor the inching-up of interest rates negatively impacted demand.

Change is urgent and now is the time. Airline efficiency gains must be matched throughout the value chain. And we must find new ways of doing business. Airlines are leading the way by Simplifying the Business. The 100% conversion to e-ticketing by the end of 2007 is a great example. But we now look to the oil industry to move faster at developing alternative fuels to further improve efficiency and environmental performance.

—Giovanni Bisignani, IATA’s Director General and CEO


allen Z

Heck, the USAF is testing synfuel for their aircraft. Formulated to JP-8, it is currenntly being made from natural gas. Eventually they want to move onto coal, and biomass.
___They are doing the testing on a B-52, since it has eight engines on 4 pods. It also has a fuel system thet allows specifictanks to feed specific engines. The test currently calls for 2 engines on one pod to be fueled with the experimental syn JP-8. The rest (6 on 3 pods) are run on conventional petro JP-8. In case of improper fuel behavior, accident, or malfunction the test fuel engines are shut down, and the aircraft flown home on the remaining regular fuel engines. They are testing for performance, and physical/chemical characteristics. One example would be gel point of the synfuel. It is lab result vs real world result.


Because the airline industry is probably the industry most at risk from oil prices I would think that they should be setting up their own biofuel/syngas operations. When most other transportation becomes electrified, they will still be dependant on liquid fuels. I don't see much evidence of forward thinking on their part.

Max Reid

Since there are only 2 companies making jets, they should decide on particular fuel and then work on it.

What is the efficiency factor of syngas made from natural gas. Will it not be better if they use LNG, since jets are fueled just before take off and they finish most of the fuel in a trip leaving little wastage.


I ran into this graph on fuel costs by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics the other day. Price for a gallon of fuel went from $.85 in 2003 to $1.90 in 2006. Of course, I wish I could pay $1.90 for a gallon of gasoline at the pump. :)

Does anyone know what percentage of the total passenger miles flown in the world are consumed by Americans? The ICAO reported 3,442 billion passenger km in air travel in 2004 (from Vital Signs), but I don't know how much of that was consumed by the US. I would guess our 5% of the world population consumed around 30% of aircraft miles flow, but I don't know for sure.

allen Z

One problem is the fact that while jets like the Boeing 777 and 787 are efficient due to engines and aerodynamic refinement, there are many other jets out there with 80's era engines and less advanced wings and bodies.

Mark R. W. Jr.

AvGas and jet fuel can be derived from biodiesel and ethanol. Why not use those?


How is biodiesel converted into a kerosene-like fuel? I haven't seen any info on that so far. I would imagine it's possible to make kerosene by hydrocracking plant and animal lipids and then traditional distillation, but there's no point making biodiesel first for that process.

Mitra Ardron

I find it strange that IATA is blaming airline losses on fuel costs. Wouldn't it be more accurate to blame it on ticket prices being absurdly cheap - contributing to over usage, with the resulting impact on the environment.


Well it seems for some reason that they aren't passing on the full fuel costs to the customer. However if they do, and then loose customers, its still a no win situation. Perhaps they would rather have full planes while loosing money than have half empty planes while loosing money. Why?


Why is biodiesel being looked at? Isn't it expensive to process it so it does not turn into gel up at 30,000 feet?

There is a thread on where somebody asked why bother extracting the oil from algea? Why not just grow a hearty strain like spirulina and just FT the resulting biomass?

Is running biomass throught the FT process that much more expensive and complicated than getting biodiesel to not gel up in the flight levels?

Inquiring minds want to know:)


I think FT is a very energy intensive process. But people have managed to make biodiesel work in jets at low temperatures. Richard Branson says he intends to wean his fleet off crude oil and onto biodiesel as soon as he can. He'd save a packet on his fuel bill too.


Id bet warm bioD >20%(heated wings? oh wait theyve got those) would do. Maybe even get better mileage? at cruz alt? Kero, JetA, BioD...not impossible?


There are several organizations, academic, military and civil, looking at blends of Biofuel with Jet A or ways to overcome the gelling issue of biofuels. See

Fred: The entire wings of jets are not heated, just the leading edges and engine intakes to prevent icing, and only used under certain conditions (like in clouds and/or within a certain temperature range) as the heating (bleed-air) obviously consumes more fuel.

Perhaps we should bring back Concorde. Flying supersonically the aircraft skin would actually get quite hot, and the fuel was used as a coolant, thus no gelling issues there!


Communicate your idea to Branston's Virgin Galactic. He would like it.

Roger Pham

Y'all have overlooked the obvious. LH2 (Liquid Hydrogen) is the answer. The plane will have half the gross takeoff weight for a given payload, and will consume 45% less BTU worth of fuel, given the fact that LH2 is 3 times lighter per BTU value than kerosene. If LH2 can be made at comparable price as kerosene for a give BTU value, then there will be saving in fuel cost. Since the planes will be lighter and will use smaller engines for a given payload, expect lower overall amortization cost and operating cost. The fuel tank will be 1.75 times larger, but since the internal fuel volume of a long-range jumbojet is but 1/10th of overall usable fuselage volume, even doubling this fuel volume would not be any big deal.

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