An Airbus A380 aircraft has successfully completed the world’s first ever flight by a commercial aircraft using a liquid fuel processed from gas (Gas to Liquids - GTL) in the first stage of a test flight programme to evaluate the environmental impact of alternative fuels in the airline market. The flight from Filton, UK to Toulouse, France, lasted three hours. The flight was piloted by Hugues van-der-Stichel and Frank Chapman.
The A380, today’s most fuel efficient airliner, is powered by Rolls Royce Trent 900 engines. Shell International Petroleum provided the Shell GTL Jet Fuel. The tests are running in parallel to the agreement signed in November 2007 with the Qatar GTL consortium partners and the results will be shared.
The A380 was chosen because the aircraft is already the environmental benchmark in air travel. It has four engines including segregated fuel tanks making it ideal for engine shut down and re-light tests under standard evaluation conditions. During the flight, engine number one was fed with a blend of GTL and jet fuel whilst the remaining three were fed with standard jet fuel.
Under Airbus’ overall alternatives fuels research programme, this is the first step of a long-term Airbus testing phase to evaluate viable and sustainable alternative fuels for the future. GTL could be available at certain locations to make it a practical and viable drop-in alternative fuel for commercial aviation in the short term. GTL has attractive characteristics for local air quality, as well as some benefits in terms of aircraft fuel burn relative to existing jet fuel. For instance, it is virtually free of sulphur. Synthetic fuel can be made from a range of hydrocarbon source material including natural gas or organic plant matter made by a process called Fischer-Tropsch.
Testing GTL today will support future second generation bio-fuels, but which are not presently available in sufficient commercial quantities. Airbus will study viable second generation bio-fuels when they become available.
Sjoerd Post, Vice President Shell Aviation said “we are pleased to have successfully completed this flight, which will pave the way for approval of synthetic jet fuel in the future, we are proud to be part of this consortium which is exploring cleaner fuels for the Aviation industry.”
“This has been a great achievement. Fuel and environment are key challenges aviation is facing and for which technology and international research collaboration open up new horizons. Our alternative fuels roadmap requires innovation, diversity of ideas and options that need to be explored, said Airbus President and CEO Tom Enders. “This takes bold cross industry and cross border collaboration and that's what we are showing today with our groundbreaking first test flight with alternative fuels. It is part and parcel of Airbus' commitment to providing leadership as an eco-efficient enterprise”.