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  • Comment: No news good news

Comment: No news good news

Boring looks well on the way to becoming the new exciting when it comes to charting the industry's earliest attempts to test alternative aviation fuels on existing engine infrastructure. The Holy Grail of a drop-in replacement certainly looks attainable, with the Fischer-Tropsch process delivering a consistently reliable premium product with which to combine standard kerosene. The fact that there was nothing of note to report from an uneventful Airbus A380 demonstration flight is in fact thrilling in its understated achievement.

 © Airbus

Nonetheless, the next certification milestone of a 100% synthetic fuel for aviation by 2013 looks likely to disappoint an environmental lobby with little patience for the complex testing regimes needed to demonstrate safe operations.

Still, as one fuels expert put it at last week's Future Fuels Aviation Summit, it is the engine manufacturer whose risk exposure is high and for whom the consequences of getting it wrong are arguably higher.

Synthetic gas-to-liquid using the Fischer-Tropsch process represents a stepping stone not an end game. What the industry desperately needs are as many alternative fuel samples as it can lay its hands on - in sufficient quantities - in order to assess technical viability, industrial scalability and longer-term sustainability.

The issue now is to transition from the various research programmes to certification as quickly as possible. If that fails the investment community, already facing sub-prime turmoil, could so easily be put off.

One major tactical issue remains to find a way for biofuel companies to provide essential data to the certification authorities and still protect their intellectual property. The US Air Force has effectively carried synthetics in its 2011 bid to certificate its entire fleet on a 50% blend, maintaining the progress towards those targets by throwing open its IP and feeding all test data to the Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative, which provides an industrial focal point for speeding the necessary certification process.

The A380 demonstration was uneventful - news in itself

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