Korean Air partners with GS Caltex to conduct test flights with SAF
From left to right, Chang-soo Kim, Vice President at GS Caltex, and Seong Bae Cho, Senior Vice President of Procurement at Korean Air. Photo courtesy of Korean Air

Korean Air partners with GS Caltex to conduct test flights with SAF

Korean Air has partnered with South Korean refiner GS Caltex to conduct test flights using sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). The test flights using SAF will be analyzed and the results will be used by the Korean government to establish SAF quality standards and accelerate commercialisation.

The two companies signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on June 29, 2023, to cooperate on a series of test flights using SAF. This agreement is aligned with the Korean government’s initiative to boost the supply of eco-friendly biofuels. Both Korean Air and GS Caltex will proactively participate in the government project hosted by South Korea’s Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy (MOTIE) and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport (MOLIT). The Korea Petroleum Quality & Distribution Authority and the Incheon International Airport Corporation will also participate in the project.

Korean Air will use SAF supplied by GS Caltex on select international flights departing from Incheon International Airport, the largest airport in South Korea and the primary airport serving the Seoul Capital Area. The airline will use SAF that satisfies international standards on quality, including ASTM International. The test flights will take place for six months starting in the second half of 2023. The government plans to establish SAF implementation guidelines for domestic use based on the results of the flights. The research will assist in setting SA quality standards in South Korea, prior to full-scale domestic production.

SAF is expected to play a key role in substantially reducing carbon emissions from aircraft operations. Unlike non-renewable fossil fuels, SAF is manufactured from eco-friendly and/or recycled materials such as animal and vegetable oils, algae and solid waste, and may reduce carbon emissions by up to 80% compared to traditional fossil jet fuel.

SAF usage is on the rise, and the EU is mandating airlines refueling in its territory to use a minimum 2% SAF blend from 2025. Many countries, including the United States, are introducing a variety of policies to expand SAF production through incentives such as tax deduction. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has also led states to adopt and commit to the goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 for international flight operations.

Korean Air tested SAF for the first time in November 2017 between Incheon and Chicago O’Hare, and has been using SAF on its Paris-Incheon route since last year. Korean Air has also signed an agreement to purchase SAF from energy major Shell at major airports in the Asia Pacific and the Middle East for five years starting in 2026.

The airline’s increase in SAF usage is part of its proactive efforts to reduce carbon emissions to help tackle climate change, and further strengthen its environmental, social and governance (ESG) management for governance transparency.

“SAF is crucial in reducing carbon emissions in the aviation sector, but is easily influenced by various factors such as domestic and international policies, regulations, and demand and supply,” said Seong Bae Cho, senior vice president of Procurement at Korean Air. “The cooperative effort with GS Caltex will vitalize the Korean domestic SAF market, and will serve as stepping stones for the Korean government’s decarbonisation policies.”