European aerospace leaders are urging the European Union to fund research into scale production of aviation biofuels, citing the astronomical costs that inhibit their use.

Speaking at Aeroweek - an event convened by the AeroSpace and Defence Industries Association of Europe (ASD) to promote the sector's cause to policy makers in Brussels - Airbus chief Tom Enders estimated that biofuel was 25 times as expensive as normal jet fuel, illustrating the need to ramp up manufacturing capacity so that it can feasibly enter the "real operational life" of airlines.

"If it's 25 times [or] five times the price of kerosene, it's not going to happen," says Enders.

Already, 80% of the industry's research and technology efforts have environmental implications, but the next phase requires "more integrated research efforts" involving airframers, engine makers, fuel producers, infrastructure providers - including airports - and politicians, Enders says.

Such an undertaking could include a biofuels analogue of the SESAR (Single European Sky ATM Research) programme, and this might form part of the EU's integrated energy policy - and be funded from the energy budget. In any case, biofuel could only gain a 30% share by 2030 with "at least some start-up help" from national governments and the EU, in Enders' view.

The Airbus chief emphasises the industry's need for priority in access to biofuel. "Liquid fuels have a higher energy content [and] specific characteristics that are important for aviation," he says. "If cars go electro-mobile, the worst thing that can happen is that they stop."


Consultation is ongoing toward the eighth EU framework programme for research and technological development (FP8), to cover the period 2014 to 2020. Enders identifies a need for stable, continued financing of the Clean Sky joint technology initiative. The EU has pledged to provide half the funding for the €1.6 billion programme, aimed at generating environmentally friendly technologies for future aircraft.

But although Airbus is pushing for a "son of Clean Sky" programme - or at least a dedicated aeronautics research budget, as opposed to a multimodal transport one - Enders does admit that "burdensome bureaucracy" led Clean Sky to make "a rough start" that was "very painful, particularly for industry".

He adds: "If you want to do something for industry, for the competitiveness, you have to do something about the decision-making processes here in Brussels, particularly if we go into complex projects."

However, taxation and regulatory measures must, in the Airbus chief's view, be implemented globally rather than at an EU level. He is particularly critical of national initiatives, singling out Germany's planned air passenger tax: "They're doing it not to set an incentive for airlines to buy new ecologically, economically efficient aircraft. They're doing it, bluntly, because they need the money. They needed a billion so they said: who can we rob?"

Ticket taxes have led some airlines to decide it is "more efficient to fly the old polluters than invest in new aircraft", Enders asserts.

EU policy makers should reinvest the proceeds of emissions trading scheme auctions in aviation research, technology and infrastructure, argues the ASD trade body. That scheme is due to come into force for aviation in 2012.

UK member of European parliament Malcolm Harbour - who chairs the committee on the internal market and consumer protection - believes that "taxation on flights and on aviation is defensible", but also that it is "entirely logical" to reinvest proceeds in new technology.

He notes "the importance of continuing support through research and development from FP8", and declares: "You will find that the parliament, by and large, will be very supportive of that, as we have been before."

Still, Enders recognises the context in which the aerospace industry's demands will be heard by political decision makers. "There are different priorities here in Brussels," he says. "Ireland - and saving the euro - is top of the agenda, not saving aerospace. Fortunately we're not in a situation where we have to be rescued as a matter of emergency."

Source: Flight International