United examines costs to produce alternative fuels

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As United Airlines preps for a part synthetic fuel demonstration and revenue flight, the Star Alliance member has also been considering its role in the supply chain.

The flights are a small step and gas-to-liquid (GTL) kerosene blends appear the closest to being financed, United managing director of strategic sourcing-fuel Robert Sturtz tells ATI.

There is a lot at risk for fuel companies to invest in a new product, so Sturtz says he would like to discuss with other airlines the possibility of carriers supporting a production plant to produce scaleable amounts of GTL kerosene.

Otherwise, who will put up the cash? he says.

United is working with synthetic fuel producer Rentech on the Airbus A320 trial and commercial flight, of which the latter is contingent upon certifying body ASTM International's approval of 50% GTL kerosene blends.

The major expects certification this summer and is aiming for a late August revenue flight powered in part by GTL, Sturtz says.

United is the latest carrier to outline plans for a GTL revenue flight. Qatar Airways plans to operate an A340-600 using a GTL kerosene blend during the second half of 2009.

The flight will likely occur between London and Doha, Qatar senior manager of fuel optimisation and environment Captain Chris Schroeder tells ATI.