Aircraft manufacturer ATR, Swedish domestic carrier Braathens Regional Airlines and sustainable aviation fuel supplier Neste have teamed to carry out the first-ever 100% SAF-powered test flight using a commercial regional aircraft. Described as a “historic day for aviation” by ATR CEO Stefano Bortoli, the 1 hour 20 minutes flight from Malmo to Bromma Airport near Stockholm is part of a 100% SAF certification process involving the partners that started in September 2021 and is expected to be completed by 2025. Airport operator Swedavia enabled the SAF to be uplifted to the aircraft at Malmo Airport, with engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney Canada involved in preparations for the flight. Neste said that when used in a neat 100% concentration, its SAF reduces GHG emissions over its life cycle by up to 80% compared to fossil jet fuel use, with additional non-CO2 benefits through significantly reduced particulate emissions. Braathens Chairman Per Braathen said the Swedish government required the airline to transition to 100% SAF by 2030 and passengers would need to contribute to the extra cost. He added there was a problem with the more expensive SAF having to compete with biodiesel production and needed government support and financial muscle.
Commenting on the test flight, ATR’s Bortoli said: “After more than a century of commercial flights powered by kerosene, we are at the dawn of a new era. In recent months, we carried out a series of successful flights with sustainable fuel in one engine. We decided it was time to perform the first test flight with 100% SAF in both engines. This helps us to certify our aircraft to fly solely on sustainable fuels faster and to enable more sustainable connections as a result.
“The flight represents a true milestone for the entire aviation industry as it shows that this technology works and can be promptly adopted by many in our industry to speed up the transition to low-emission aviation.”
Jonathan Wood, VP Europe, Renewable Aviation, commented: “Test flights like this show it is possible to safely fly on 100% SAF and help accelerate the adoption of SAF in aviation.”
ATR said the results of the experimental test flight would be analysed and then released at a later date. After the flight, ATR’s chief pilot, Cyril Cizabuiroz, said the aircraft was flown at its normal altitude and cruise speed, used the same level of fuel that was expected and performed normally with no engine parameter abnormalities. “For the flight crew, this was a very positive test flight,” he reported. “It’s the beginning of a long journey to certification for 100% SAF use in 2025.”
The 2025 date is five years ahead of larger aircraft manufacturers Airbus and Boeing, which are targeting 2030. “We are a small company with a product that has a long and successful history and we have now demonstrated we can fly our aircraft on 100% SAF,” explained Bortoli. “We have been working actively on this project for a couple of years and the whole industry is now looking at this more seriously than ever before. The difficulty is not from a technological standpoint, it’s having a common ground for setting the reference for the fuel and that will be the most difficult part of the process. We also have just the one engine – Pratt & Whitney – rather than many to deal with.”
Per Braathen said he was less concerned about the certification process than the supply-side availability of SAF. “That’s where governments and European authorities have to really contribute,” he said. “We are competing with refinery capacity for diesel and producing SAF is much more expensive than diesel. However, refineries are being closed down because of the transition, for example, to electric cars. They can be converted quite easily and can use technology that already exists.”
Bartoli said there was a high barrier of entry for SAF producers and private capital needed certainty about future opportunities, so having incentives for airlines to use SAF would create demand and pull incremental investment into SAF production. “If we can generate that circle, which is advantageous to all players, then definitely we will have the answer.”
Braathen said his airline had gone through tough times. “It’s a very different airline compared to two years ago,” he said. “When you start over again you have to have a goal and this time it was [using] SAF, which I really believe can make a difference.”
Added Bartoli: “There is no business if it’s not a sustainable business and when we make decisions, we try to change the paradigm. It’s not simply a dollar-driven decision-making process, it’s a decision for our long-term future and when we talk about sustainable aviation and the use of sustainable aviation fuels, I think this is a perfect match. Newcomers to ATR aren’t necessarily looking for a higher salary but they want to know the purpose of the company and its commitment to the environment. We must demonstrate that.”
Photo (ATR): Fuelling of the Braathens Regional Airline’s ATR 72-600 with 100% SAF