JAL Completes Biofuel Test Flight

Japan Airlines (JAL) became the first airline to conduct a demonstration flight using a biofuel primarily refined from the energy crop, camelina. It was also the first demo flight using a combination of three biofuel feedstocks, as well as the first one using Pratt & Whitney engines. The results of the flight are expected to conclusively confirm the second-generation biofuel’s operational performance capabilities and potential commercial viability, the airline said.

The approximately one and half-hour demo flight using a JAL-owned Boeing 747-300 aircraft, carrying no passengers or payload, took off from Haneda Airport, Tokyo at 11:50am (JST). A blend of 50% biofuel and 50% traditional Jet-A jet (kerosene) fuel was tested in the No. 3 engine (middle right), one of the aircraft’s four Pratt & Whitney JT9D engines.

No modifications to the aircraft or engine were required for the biofuel, which is a “drop-in” replacement for petroleum-based fuel. The biofuel component tested was a mixture of three second-generation biofuel feedstocks: camelina (84%), jatropha (under 16%), and algae (under 1%).

The JAL cockpit crew onboard the aircraft checked the engine’s performance during normal and non-normal flight operations, which included quick accelerations and decelerations, and engine shutdown and restart. A ground-based preflight test was conducted the day before the flight to ensure that the engine functioned normally using the biofuel/traditional Jet-A fuel blend.

“Everything went smoothly. There was no difference at all in the performance of the engine powered by the biofuel blend, and the other three engines containing regular jet fuel,” said JAL Captain Keiji Kobayashi who piloted the aircraft.

Data recorded on the aircraft will now be analyzed to determine if equivalent engine performance was seen from the biofuel blend compared to typical Jet A fuel. The initial analysis of the data will take several weeks and will be conducted by team members from Boeing, JAL and Pratt & Whitney.

“Today is an extremely important day for Japan Airlines, for aviation, and for the environment. The demonstration flight brings us ever closer to finding a ‘greener’ alternative to traditional petroleum-based fuel. When biofuels are produced in sufficient amounts to make them commercially viable, we hope to be one of the first airlines in the world to start powering our aircraft using them,” said Haruka Nishimatsu, JAL Group’s president and CEO.

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