UK first as Thomson Airways’ three-year biofuel commercial flight programme finally takes off

6.10.2011  (GreenAir online)

UK first as Thomson Airways’ three-year biofuel commercial flight programme finally
takes off 

UK first as Thomson Airways' three-year biofuel commercial flight programme finally takes off | Thomson Airways,TUI

Thomson Airways aircraft being refuelled with biofuel blend prior to flight 


A Thomson Airways Boeing 757-200 today conducted the UK’s first commercial flight
to use biofuel. Using a 50/50 blend of used cooking oil and conventional jet kerosene
in one engine, the aircraft will make a four-hour flight from Birmingham Airport
to Arrecife in the Canary Islands

The flight marks the start of regular daily flights using a dedicated aircraft
as part of trials to quantify any differences in performance or fuel burn of the
engine when compared with the non-biofuel engine. The inaugural flight was originally
scheduled for the end of July but was postponed due to “unforeseen delays” in
the fuel delivery.

Two UK environmental groups have condemned the biofuel flight as “self-seeking
and irresponsible greenwash” but the airline has hit back at the criticism.

The biofuel blend has been supplied by Netherlands-based SkyNRG, [see SkyNRG comment below] which has already supplied fuel for the KLM and Finnair biofuel flights that
took place in July. Thomson says it will work with SkyNRG and its other strategic
partners over the next three years to increase the proportion of jet biofuel it
uses and drive down the cost of the fuel.

As a member of the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group, Thomson has also pledged
to use feedstocks that do not compete with food or natural resources and have
significantly lower total lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions than conventional
fossil jet fuel. [ How?? ]

In addition, says the airline, once the supply chain develops, feedstocks grown
in developing areas must have a positive socio-economic benefit to local communities
and areas of high conservation value and local eco-systems must not be cleared. 
[And quite how do they propose to achieve all that, with the known problems of
indirect land use effects ??  A very laudable aspiration, but almost certainly
unachievable in practice]

Thomson and its parent TUI Travel have called on the UK government and other
European states to help accelerate the pace of development of sustainable aviation
biofuels and incentivise investment in R&D, loan guarantees and other fiscal
measures.  [That means they want subsidies and government help, which means the tax payer

However, today’s biofuel flight has been criticised by environmental groups AirportWatch
and Biofuelwatch as “dangerous greenwash”.

Thomson Airways are using spurious claims about the merits of ‘sustainable biofuels’
to try and get the Government to grant yet more financial support and preferential
treatment for the aviation industry,” said Sarah Clayton of AirportWatch. “There
is nothing sustainable about competing with other biofuel markets for the obviously
limited supplies of used cooking oil and tallow.

“This merely means that others, finding increased competition for supplies, will
then simply use more palm and soya oil instead, thus causing more forests to be
destroyed. And there is nothing sustainable about worsening existing land conflicts
in Brazil so that companies like Thomson can keep expanding.”

A spokesman for Thomson Airways said the claims made by AirportWatch and Biofuelwatch
were “totally inaccurate”.

“They wrongly state that ‘Thomson Airways have now conceded that they will have
to use virgin plant oil, initially from camelina from North America and babassu
nuts from Brazil …’. The biofuel purchased by Thomson Airways is sourced entirely
from used cooking oil. No animal tallow, camelina or babassu was used,” he said. 
[Doubtless the fuel for the first few flights was, but there is not enough used
cooking oil to go round – it is almost all already diverted to terrestrial uses. 
One or two planes can fly on it, but not many.  It is a token gesture].

The spokesman also pointed out a WWF Energy Report had recognised that bioenergy
was currently the only suitable replacement for fossil fuels in transport applications
that required liquid fuels with a high energy density such as aviation.

Christian Cull, Communications Director for TUI UK and Ireland, said: “We realise
we won’t please everyone, and that at present the aviation biofuel supply chain
is not perfect. We are sincere in our commitment and are proud to be flying with
biofuel. Whilst these are early days, we are in this for the long haul because
we believe it is the right thing to do.

Responding to the environmental groups’ claim that Thomson was using the biofuel
flights as part of a lobby effort to win more state support and subsidies for
aviation, the airline said it firmly believed the adoption of sustainable biofuels
by airlines would help achieve the UK government’s carbon budget that commits
to reducing carbon emissions by 50% by 2025.   [Not if the science is to be believed, the supposed carbon savings are shown
to be hugely less than claimed, and for a huge amount of social and environmental
damage, tnot to mention a lot of money from the taxpayer, here is only a tiny
– if any – carbon saving as a result].

“We are aware of the negative impact of using biofuels irresponsibly, and that
is why Thomson Airways believes the industry must continue to work together with
initiatives such as the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels [about which there are many and profound criticisms and uncertainties] to find more sustainable alternatives to fossil fuel,” added the Thomson spokesman.
“The aviation industry as a whole cannot stand still and do nothing.”

Jet fuel supplier SkyNRG is a joint venture made up of KLM, North Sea Group and
Spring Associates. It is advised by an independent Sustainability Board that consists
of two NGOs (including WWF-NL) [sic]  and an academic institute on sustainability issues related to the proposed
feedstock and estate selections.

SkyNRG has issued its own statement (see below) in response to the AirportWatch/Biofuelwatch


Thomson Airways biofuel flight announcement

Thomson Airways – Sustainability at TUI





SkyNRG reaction to AirportWatch/Biofuelwatch statement

Air travel has become an integral part of everyday life. There will be air travel,
now and in the future, as it fulfills an important social function in today’s
global society. The aviation industry acknowledges the urgency for emission reduction
and they also know there is a need to switch to alternative, renewable resources
as fossil fuels are depleting. Demand side reduction is a very effective way to
reduce fuel consumption and related green house gas emissions. But it does not
offer a complete solution to aviation related emissions, let alone energy security.
In addressing the challenge to replace fossil kerosene in a sustainable way, aviation
has no alternative but liquid hydrocarbons from bio-based (waste) sources.

We share the concerns of NGOs (and other stakeholders) when it comes to bio-energy
resources. We believe in the notion that
the impact of bioenergy on social and environmental issues may be positive or
negative depending on local conditions and the design and implementation of specific
(SRREN, 2011). When done in the wrong way biomass and biofuel production systems
can have a variety of negative impacts on eco- and social systems. Greenhouse
gas emissions are just part of the problem. On the other side, well managed projects
can have a profoundly positive effect on ecosystems and social systems alike and
can include: enhanced biodiversity, soil carbon increases and improved soil productivity,
significant greenhouse reductions, less dependency on fossil energy sources, reduced
erosion (top soil and nutrient run off) effects, stimulation of local employment
and strengthening of local, regional and national economies.

SkyNRG focuses on this positive side of biofuel development. To make the right
decisions now and in the future, SkyNRG is advised by an independent Sustainability
Board, consisting of the Dutch wing of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF-NL),
Solidaridad, and the Copernicus Institute of the University of Utrecht. SkyNRG
recognizes to be in a transition; the best choices today are likely to be replaced
by improved choices in the near future. We have chosen to start with Used Cooking
Oil, a waste stream, as main feedstock. We know the available volumes are limited
and that it can never replace total fossil kerosene consumption. And neither can
vegetable oils. We see current options as a first step in the right direction
and we are exploring and supporting future alternatives both in feedstock and

First steps are critical to get things going. The first launching flights, made
by carriers that are stepping up to make the difference, are essential to engage
industry, governments, customers and other stakeholders. We welcome Thomson Airways
to join us on the road towards a sustainable future for aviation
” – Dirk Kronemeijer, MD SkyNRG


SkyNRG is a joint venture of KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, North Sea Group and Spring
Associates. SkyNRG’s mission is to help create a sustainable future for aviation
through actively developing a sustainable production chain for alternative aviation
fuels. Today the market for these fuels is just emerging; SkyNRG is taking the
first steps to make it a reality. Doing nothing is not an option.


Note: Some of the claims made by AirportWatch and BiofuelsWatch are inaccurate. The article
wrongly states that: “The company that is refining Thomson’s Biofuels states on
their website that they are looking for Palm and Soya as suitable feedstock. This
is not the case, the plant merely has the technical capability to process different
types vegetable oils, hence the statement. Today the plant is running on waste
oils only and has no intention to switch.



AirportWatch is pleased if SkyNRG is not using palm oil.  The concern comes from
knowledge that palm oil is being considered, or used, by others. For example in
this GreenAir online article below:


Lufthansa will get its biofuel from Neste Oil, with palm oil likely to be sneaked
into the mix

Lufthansa takes off towards a new era of sustainably fuelled regular commercial
scheduled flights 


Mon 18 July 2011 (GreenAir Online story)

This is a very worrying article about biofuel Lufthansa will be getting from
Neste Oil, which is well known for using large quantities of palm oil.  It appears
that though Lufthansa is saying all the suitable greenwash things about its flights
at present, using only camelina, jatropha and animal fats, as Neste Oil deals
largely with palm oil, it is likely that so called “sustainably sourced” palm
oil will get into the mix, and Lufthansa is not bothered about that.
Click here to view full story…