PARIS (Reuters) – Air France-KLM flew a biofuel-fueled Airbus A350 from Paris to Montreal on Tuesday, demonstrating the airline’s willingness to switch to low-emission fuel despite deep divisions in the industry over the pace of its adoption.
Air France flight 342 took off from Charles de Gaulle airport with a mix of 16% sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) in its fuel tanks, produced in France by Total from used frying oil.
This flight marked a “common ambition to decarbonize air transport and develop an SAF supply chain in France,” the companies said in a joint statement with the airport operator ADP.
Jet fuel produced from biomass or synthetically from renewable energy has the potential to reduce carbon emissions, albeit at a high cost compared to the price of kerosene.
From next year, flights departing from France will have to use 1% SAF, ahead of the European Union’s targets of reaching 2% by 2025 and 5% by 2030 as part of the of the EU’s Green Deal policy.
But traditional airlines in the network have sought to exempt long-haul flights, arguing that a European-only SAF requirement could expose them to unfair foreign competition.
This sparked an angry backlash from low-cost airlines including Ryanair, Wizz Air and easyJet, who wrote to the EU in March demanding the rules apply to all flights from Europe.
Airlines have a “major responsibility” to cut emissions, Air France-KLM CEO Ben Smith said Tuesday – while reiterating his doubts over European SAF quotas for long-haul flights.
“We have to be on a level playing field,” Smith told Reuters. “We can’t have a situation where airlines based outside of Europe can harm us, (and) that’s a real concern.”
Transport and Environment, a Brussels-based campaign group that signed the budget carriers’ open letter, again rejected calls to exclude long distances from biofuel rules.
Such an exemption would make “no sense,” said group aviation director Andrew Murphy.
The green fuel used for the Paris-Montreal flight was produced by Total at its Oudalle plant near Le Havre as well as La Mede, a refinery in the south of France converted to biofuels in 2019.