The International Air Transport Association (IATA) says it will approve biofuels for commercial flights by next year in a bid to drastically reduce the industry’s carbon footprint.
Paul Steele, who heads IATA’s environmental initiatives, told reporters in New Delhi biofuel would be certified “by the end of next year”.
French news agency AFP reports that certification is widely regarded as a first technical step that could eliminate some of the investment uncertainties clouding the use of high quality biofuels in aviation.
“For the first time, air transport has the possibility of an alternative to traditional jet fuel,” said IATA chief executive Giovanni Bisignani.
IATA estimates aviation biofuel could reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 80 percent “on a full carbon life-cycle basis” and that it would save 600 kilogrammes of emissions per flight on a Boeing 747-400 plane.
Steele said recent flight tests by carriers intended to “decouple traffic growth from emissions growth” had shown biofuel and traditional fuel could be successfully blended without changes to aircraft engines.
But airlines face the challenge of controlling costs and procuring biofuel without affecting the food chain, he added.
Biofuels are controversial as critics say widespread production could affect food crops, exacerbate global shortages and strain water supplies.
Bisignani said biofuel was only a part of IATA’s strategy to achieve carbon-neutral growth and eventually zero carbon emissions.
He urged nations to treat the aviation sector as a separate entity ahead of international climate change talks in Copenhagen in December aimed at finding a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.
“If not, we face the risk of uncoordinated competitive government taxation that won’t reduce emissions but will be harmful to global economic development,” said Bisignani.
Meanwhile, the tough conditions suffered by carriers hit by the global economic crisis are improving, the IATA chief adds.
“The worst is over but the recovery will be a long story,” Bisignani says.
The aviation industry had forecast a worldwide drop in revenues of $80 billion, from $535 billion in 2008 to $455 billions in 2009.
“A drop of this dimension will not be easy to address. It will take three or four years to return to the old levels,” he said.
Bisignani said a similar crisis faced by the sector after the September 11 attacks had been tempered by relatively positive market conditions.
“Now we have an economy that is having a difficult moment,” he said.