June 4, 2012

NBAA has joined with 12 other aviation groups in supporting continued research by the Department of Defense (DoD) on the use of biofuels, even as lawmakers support eliminating funding for those efforts.

In a letter to Sens. Carl Levin (D-MI) and John McCain (R-AZ) – the chairman and ranking member of Senate Armed Services Committee, respectively – aviation groups protested the committee’s recent attempts to block the department’s participation in programs to construct biofuel refineries, which if passed as part of the larger FY2013 defense appropriations bill, would severely curtail Defense Department research into the use of biofuels derived from plants such as algae and sugar cane to supplement the use of petroleum-based jet fuel.

“It is our collective belief that the ongoing efforts of the United States military on alternative fuels are helping reduce the cost of those alternatives and will ultimately help reduce our reliance on foreign oil,” according to the May 23 letter. “The biofuels industry is rapidly developing and has the potential to save taxpayers millions, as well as provide a much-needed, supply-based hedge against the volatility resulting from reliance on unstable sources of oil.”

Review the joint letter (122KB, PDF)

Proponents suggest that widespread use of a 50/50 biofuel mix would reduce dependence on foreign oil and lower petroleum consumption, while also producing cleaner exhaust emissions to help curb global warming. The downside is the current high price of biofuel, with a cost-per-gallon as much as four times higher than for straight JP-8.

By a count of 13-12, Senate committee members supported efforts to block Defense participation in programs to construct biofuel refineries, and prohibited the Pentagon from purchasing renewable biofuels that are more expensive than regular jet fuel. Aviation groups believe that thinking is shortsighted.

“DoD’s work is being leveraged to move more quickly toward commercial viability of alternatives by demonstrating large-scale production, as well as making the price more competitive,” the groups’ letter stated. “For these reasons, we are concerned that language included in the House Of Representatives DOD Authorization bill prescribing a price for purchase of alternative fuels could thwart achieving our nation’s energy independence and security goals.”

Since 2007, the United States Air Force and Navy have spearheaded the implementation of biofuels for military vehicles, conducting trials with a wide range of aircraft and ships. In the private sector, airlines and engine manufacturers also have conducted successful biofuel test flights using commercial and business aircraft.

“We believe the ongoing military and civil aviation efforts must be continued, and we strongly advocate that you prioritize and fund investment in aviation biofuels in what we all acknowledge is a difficult fiscal environment,” the letter concluded. “Ultimately, we are convinced that this is an investment that will pay off by saving taxpayers millions through achieving energy security and independence.”

The Senate committee’s actions followed similar efforts by the House Armed Services Committee to block spending on biofuel research.

In addition to the NBAA, other groups signing on to the letter were: Aerospace Industries Association, Air Line Pilots Association, Airlines for America, Airports Council International – North America, American Association of Airport Executives, Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, Cargo Airline Association, General Aviation Manufacturers Association, International Federation of Professional & Technical Engineers, National Air Carrier Association, National Air Transportation Association and Regional Airline Association.