SAA, Mango celebrate biofuel passenger flight

Johannesburg – Boeing, South African Airways (SAA) and low-cost carrier Mango on Friday celebrated Africa’s first passenger flights with sustainable aviation biofuel.

The flights coincided with Boeing’s 100th anniversary and centennial celebrations worldwide.

The SAA and Mango flights carried 300 passengers from Johannesburg to Cape Town on Boeing 737-800s using biofuel made by SkyNRG and Sunchem SA from the nicotine-free tobacco plant Solaris. The 737-800 engines were powered by a fuel blend made up of 30 percent aviation biofuel.

In 2013, Boeing and SAA launched their sustainable aviation fuels collaboration and the following year Project Solaris became the first focus project that converted oil from the Solaris plant seed into bio-jet fuel. In 2015, farms in Limpopo Province of South Africa, from which the biofuel for Friday’s flights was sourced, achieved certification from the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB), one of the strongest sustainability standards in the world.

RSB certification provides a model for expansion of Project Solaris to larger scale production. The initiative also focuses on South Africa’s goals for public health, rural development and economic and employment opportunities for farmers by increasing production of Solaris and other feedstocks on under-utilised land.

The partners on Friday also launched a stakeholder and sustainability plan called the Southern Africa Sustainable Fuel Initiative (SASFI) to ensure a long-term domestic fuel supply for SAA and other regional fuel users. The goal for the initiative is to scale-up over the next several years to gain additional biofuel capacity.

If successful, farmers will be able to tap into local and global demand for certified feedstock without adverse impact to food supplies, fresh water or land use.

Studies have shown that sustainably produced aviation biofuel emits 50% to 80% lower carbon emissions through its life cycle than fossil jet fuel. Airlines around the world have conducted more than 2 500 passenger flights using various forms of aviation biofuel since it was approved for commercial use in 2011.

In addition to its collaboration in Southern Africa, Boeing has active biofuel development projects in the United States, Middle East, Europe, China, Japan, Southeast Asia, Brazil and Australia.

According to Mango CEO Nico Bezuidenhout, the airline has always been in great support of environmental initiatives and has, over the past decade, engaged in several sustainable and environmentally beneficial social development programmes.

"In addition, over time, we have taken several measures to reduce fuel consumption and, as a positive consequence, the reduction of emissions through the installation of lighter seating and removal of excess aircraft weight among others," said Bezuidenhout.

"It is a privilege to participate in the SAA biofuel programme and it represents the next step in the aviation sector’s active participation to not only reduce reliance on fossil fuels in the long term but, to actively seek solutions to ongoing environmental challenges while positively contributing to up and downstream social development at the same time."

In his view, the project also shows how, when various role players come together and collaborate, success is imminent and Mango plans to continue to participate in such environmentally beneficial initiatives.

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