The US Department of Transportation plans to issue a 14-month contract to find out the "best option for incentivising" industry, academia and the general public to speed up the development of non-fossil alternative aviation fuel technologies for the commercial aviation fleet.

In a recent notice, the DoT said it would provide between $25,000 and $500,000 in funding to up to three contractors to develop "research roadmaps" that integrate alternative fuels incentive programmes into current development plans for the FAA's next-generation air transportation system (Nextgen).

"Avoiding serious, imminent and irreversible threats to US aviation, including prohibitive air travel congestion and increased environmental damage, particularly to air quality, depend on the success of Nextgen," says the DoT.

Successful proposals will focus on one of three areas: promoting alternative fuel technologies through the subject-specific white papers (SSWP) method, offering financial incentives through prizes, or coming up with alternative incentive methods. The DoT says the incentive opportunities "are likely to best occur over a three- to eight-year timeframe" and adds: "In recent years, large-scope technological breakthroughs have been achieved via prize competitions - most notably in space travel."

The DoT says the FAA's Office of Environment and Energy has decided two main research initiatives under its purview will contribute dramatically to the success of Nextgen - improvements in aviation fuel-burn modelling and alternative aviation fuel technology development.

Fuel-burn modelling is being handled by SSWP, a method by which solutions are culled from commissioned research papers by a pool of experts, but the DoT says the FAA's environmental experts and others believe this method may not be "the most practical way to pursue" the development of alternative fuels.

Responses to the inquiry are due by 18 February.

Source: Flight International