COULD this low-cost Indian airline be saving the world, one flight at a time?
It surely hopes so.
SpiceJet Ltd., an airline headquartered in Gurgaon, India, completed its maiden flight this week using a blend of aviation fuel and plant oil. To be precise, it is oil from jatropha seeds.
Jatropha is a genus of flowering plants in the spurge family, Euphorbiaceae, that can grow in wastelands across India.
Its plant seeds are said to be very rich in oil (40 percent) thus considered to be an excellent source of biofuel.
Jatropha incentives is a part of India’s goal to achieve energy independence by the year 2018 and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s push for greater use of alternative resources to cut India’s dependence on oil imports.
SpiceJet’s Bombardier Q400 turboprop aircraft made a 200-kilometer one-way trip to New Delhi from the city of Dehradun using this blend of fuel.
The maiden flight took about 25 minutes and the aircraft reportedly flew incident free.
“The results have been very positive. According to preliminary studies, the power from biofuel was even better than regular aviation turbine fuel (ATF),” The Times of India quoted SpiceJet’s chief strategy officer G P Gupta as saying.
Not only does it have the potential to reduce SpiceJet’s dependence on traditional aviation fuel by 50 percent on every flight, it would also bring down fares.
Moving forward, SpiceJet plans to blend a quarter of its energy requirement with biofuel for flight operations.
Airlines worldwide have been experimenting with biofuel for several years to limit their dependency on oil and ease the impact on the environment.
In 2008, Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 completed the first test flight on biofuel on a short trip from London Heathrow to Amsterdam.
In January this year, Qantas operated a 15-hour commercial flight from Los Angeles, the US to Melbourne, Australia powered by a biofuel blend comprising mustard seeds.
By 2025, India is expected to become the world’s third-biggest aviation market.
Using biofuels will help SpiceJet increase affordability of flying for India’s emerging middle class, save the world, and also ensure the airline stays ahead of the fierce competition that is to come.
This article was first published on our sister website Travel Wire Asia.