Malaysia Airlines has operated its first flight using sustainable aviation fuel, with one of its Airbus A330-200 aircraft flying nonstop from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur powered by a blend of used cooking oil and conventional fuel, reports Tony Harrington. The milestone flight by Malaysia’s national carrier was conducted in partnership with Petronas Dagangan Berhad (PDB), a division of the national energy company, with a 38% blend of SAF produced by Finland’s Neste. The fuel for this flight was procured from Neste by Petco Trading UK, the European marketing and trading arm of Petronas. Elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific region, the New Zealand government has confirmed that in 2022 it will progress plans to introduce a SAF blending mandate, while national airline Air New Zealand has gone to market seeking formal submissions from global manufacturers for novel propulsion systems to help decarbonise its domestic short-haul operations by 2030.
Malaysia Airlines flight MH 7979, which took around 12 hours, was the first major collaboration between the airline’s parent company, Malaysia Aviation Group (MAG), and PDB, which recently partnered to progress the shift to more sustainable air transport. Among their objectives, the companies are working to help progress the permanent provision of SAF at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, for use by the airline on scheduled flights by 2025. Planning for the flight from Amsterdam also incorporated the use of GE Digital’s FlightPulse and Fuel Insight software, which was used by the pilots to optimise fuel use for the journey.
The airline committed earlier this year to target net zero emissions by 2050 and as a member of the oneworld alliance has joined a collective pledge to ensure that by 2030, 10% of the fuel it uses will be SAF. MAG Group CEO Izham Ismail said: “Building on the momentum from our net zero emissions commitment earlier this year, we are proud to have crossed the significant landmark of operating the first Malaysian flight using sustainable aviation fuel. Moving forward, we expect SAF to be a key component of our strategy to deliver a more sustainable travel experience for our customers. With the completion of this significant first step, we are committed to working towards having a viable SAF supply chain here in Malaysia and we believe the only way we could reach this goal is through strategic collaboration and support from our stakeholders.”
PDB’s Chief Executive Officer, Azrul Osman Rani, said the SAF flight marked a significant milestone in the company’s 20 years-plus relationship with Malaysia Airlines, and the broader sustainable energy activities of Petronas, which include the provision of electric vehicle chargers, liquefied natural gas, solar power and other renewable power sources. “With SAF now proven to be a feasible alternative for commercial flights, we are excited to continue making headway in this decarbonisation journey,” he said.
Neste’s EVP Renewable Aviation, Thorsten Lange, welcomed the opportunity to work with Malaysia Airlines and Petronas to support the sustainable flight. “Neste’s SAF provides immediate emission reductions and is already available today, playing a pivotal role in decarbonising the aviation industry,” he said. “We continue to scale up our operations and will have the capacity to produce some 1.5 million tons of SAF annually by the end of 2023.” Up to 1 million tons of that total will come from Neste’s refinery in neighbouring Singapore, which is being expanded to help accommodate soaring global demand for SAF.
In New Zealand, the national government has confirmed that in 2022 it will develop a mandate for jet fuel as part of a broader 2030 commitment to reduce carbon emissions by 41% of 2005 levels. The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment is working with Air New Zealand on a feasibility study of local production of SAF. Additionally, Air New Zealand has released to the aviation manufacturing sector a Product Requirement Document (PRD), seeking engagement with industry on the development of zero emission aircraft, or new propulsion systems that can be retrofitted into existing aircraft, potentially resulting in commitments to new aircraft as early as Q4 of 2022. “Air New Zealand’s ambition is to be an early adopter of technology to enable operational learnings and develop infrastructure for future zero-emission fleet additions,” the carrier said.
Zero emissions aircraft will be used by the airline to cut its total emissions by 20%. As well as seeking solutions for its own short-haul operations, the airline has invited interested parties to also consider the prospect of testing new-concept aircraft in New Zealand. And it has expressed willingness to consider retrofitting existing turboprop aircraft for use as concept demonstrators for novel propulsion technology. The PRD was intended “to enable Air New Zealand to accelerate the deployment of aircraft which benefit from energy and propulsion systems which produce significantly lower life-cycle carbon emissions than current gas turbine designs today.”
Photo: Malaysia Airlines flight fuelled with SAF blend at Amsterdam Schiphol (credit: Petronas)