Aug. 25, 2020

Business aviation continues to drive the development of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF), derived in part from renewable resources. An NBAA News Hour webinar addressed industry questions about SAF, and offered real-world perspectives on its use in turbine aircraft.

Sourced from multiple sustainable feed stocks in up to a 30% blend with conventional jet fuel, SAF offers a myriad benefits for the industry, including reduced carbon and particulate emissions. Tripp Riedel, vice-president of aviation for Valero, noted a lingering misperception that SAF may result in reduced engine performance, and even cause harm to aircraft fuel systems.

“The bottom line is that SAF is jet fuel for all practical purposes,” he said. “We simply don’t have any issues using it.”

Nike is among the companies utilizing SAF in their aircraft fleet. John Gale, the company’s senior director of aviation, said he worked closely with their OEM to verify SAF was safe for use in their aircraft and that it truly was a “drop-in” fuel.

“It is, absolutely,” he said. “We have flown a number of times now on SAF, and from the flight deck there is no noticeable difference in the checklist, engine performance and indications, or fuel flow. You feel nothing different [and] you see nothing different.”

That message was echoed by Steve Csonka, executive director for the Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative (CAAFI). He emphasized that SAF meets all the ASTM D1655 specifications for aviation jet fuel.

“When you pull into an airport and fill up with jet fuel, you don’t give consideration to the actual pedigree of that fuel that you’re putting in your tank,” he said. “The OEMs have designed jet engines that will operate safely and reliably on any fuel within the boundaries of D1655.”

Despite these advantages, widespread SAF usage remains constrained by limited production capacity and distribution, which in turn leads to higher prices for users. Chris Nielsen, aviation director for a private company, likened the industry’s gradual acceptance of SAF to its embrace of safety management systems (SMS), which initially were viewed with skepticism over added cost and effort.

“Eventually, we realized the buy-in and value [of SMS] resulted in a good return on investment,” he said. “Like any new technology, there’s certainly a price difference initially but then as it develops, you’d see [SAF] become more mainstream, and that it’s the right thing to do.”

Panel moderator Stewart D’Leon, NBAA’s director of technical operations, pointed to additional resources for business aviation stakeholders, including the recently-updated Sustainable Aviation Fuel Guide published by the SAF Coalition comprised of several industry groups – including CAAFI and NBAA – along with several OEMs on its steering committee.

“Members have told us sustainability is among their goals and they want to know what their flight department can do to help,” he said. “My first response is, let’s work to make SAF the norm when you’re refueling your aircraft.”