December 3, 2012

In a move strongly supported by NBAA and 12 other aviation groups, the U.S. Senate last week struck down restrictions on the Department of Defense’s research into alternative aviation fuel sources.

The 67-32 vote removes language from the National Defense Authorization Act that would have prevented the military from purchasing biofuels if they cost more than petroleum. The full legislation containing the language must still pass the Senate, then be reconciled with its counterpart bill passed by the House of Representatives before it is submitted to President Obama for final approval.

In a letter sent to Senate Armed Services Committee, Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) and Ranking Member John McCain (R-AZ) last spring, the coalition of aviation groups including NBAA wrote: “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. 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.”

The Air Force has been testing small quantities of alternative fuels in warplanes and support aircraft in order to demonstrate that they can prove reliable once they become cost-effective. But those tests were comparatively expensive. The USAF reportedly paid $59 per gallon for 11,000 gallons in one test load earlier this year.

While opponents of such testing programs were angered at that level of expense, backers called the research vital – not just to the nation’s defense, but to the aviation industry as a whole.

“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 aviation groups’ letter stated on May 23. “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.”

Review the joint letter (PDF).

Along with NBAA, other groups supporting research into alternative fuel sources include: 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.