Salicornia supply issue forces delay to Interjet biofuels demonstration flight

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Mexico's Interjet has postponed Latin America's first biofuels demonstration flight, saying it has been unable to secure enough salicornia to support the trial.

Airbus parent EADS announced last March a joint biofuels trial with Interjet, CFM International, Snecma parent Safran and Honeywell subsidiary UOP that was originally scheduled to take place in the first quarter of 2010 using an Interjet CFM56-powered Airbus A320. But Interjet CEO Jose Luis Garza says the carrier has determined it cannot source enough salicornia from Mexican farms to go forward with the flight this year.

Garza says Arizona-based Global Seawater was originally lined up to supply the required salicornia, a type of algae indigenous to northern Mexico. But Garza reveals that the project team is now looking at other suppliers, including Mexico City-based Grupo KUO.

He adds there will be a determination shortly whether KUO will be able to supply sufficient salicornia for the trial. But it is now too late to conduct the flight this year given the "agricultural cycle" and the time it takes to cultivate the algae.

Interjet and its partners plan to reschedule the two-hour demonstration flight once it has solved the salicornia supply issue. Interjet, which operates domestic services with a fleet of 15 A320s, remains committed to sourcing an alternative fuel in Mexico.

While other carriers including Continental Airlines and Japan Airlines have used algae as part of the mix in biofuel trial flights conducted last year, this is the first time an attempt has been made to use salicornia. However, a new project launched on 17 January involving Etihad Airways, UOP and Boeing plans to test salicornia at a new research institute being established in Abu Dhabi.

The Interjet project is the first alternative fuel project involving a Latin American airline. Biofuel demonstration flights have now been completed in every other major region, including North America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

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