Rising fuel costs and increased demand has created a perfect storm for record airfares this summer, but is there room for alternative fuel options in the future?
On average, a domestic round-trip ticket will cost $430 this summer, with approximately $330 of that ticket going to fuel costs.
Jet fuel now costs 50 percent more than last year, a 30 percent increase from the start of 2011. For every cent increase in the price of jet fuel, an airline’s costs rise $175 million.
Jet fuel has now surpassed labor cost as the main expense for airlines, with 33 percent of their budget going toward jet fuel purchases.
Despite rising costs, the Air Transportation Association reports that airlines are expecting 206 million passengers this summer, which represents a 1.5 percent increase in business from last summer.
Experts are asking, is there a potential alternative to traditional jet fuel in the commercial sector?
One option is hydrotreated renewable jet (HRJ) fuel. This summer the ASTM International, the organization that sets international standards for materials, products and systems, will vote to certify HRJ fuel. Certification is required before HRJ can be used to power commercial flights.
Processed from weedy plants and animal fats, HRJ is chemically identical to the crude oil that runs today’s flights. Earlier this month, HRJ was used to partially power two Air Force F-16 planes. The planes used a jet fuel blend from sustainable oils that was 50 percent biofuel and 50 percent standard jet propellant fuel.
The U.S. Department of Defense and the Federal Aviation Administration have run test that prove HRJ to be feasible and safe but the question remains whether it is a logistically suitable alternative. HRJ producers must prove to that it can be produced with a smaller environmental footprint than standard jet fuel.
HRJ also has to be proven available and capable of being deployed to meet the need.
An ASTM expert panel will meet in June to consider HRJ and if approved the fuel will be voted on by the entire ASTM committee later in the summer. Only following ASTM certification will companies be allowed to build bio-refineries which will produce the fuel on the scale needed to be used by commercial airlines.
By Lily J. Kosner for PeterGreenberg.com.
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