SAA and Mango launch their first commercial flights using biojet fuel

South African Airways (SAA) and South Africa’s low-cost carrier Mango flew their first commercial flights using biojet fuel, the culmination of a three-year trial. The SAA and Mango flights carried 300 passengers from Johannesburg to Cape Town on Boeing 737-800s using a blend of 30% aviation biofuel produced from Sunchem’s nicotine-free tobacco plant solaris.

The target is for half of its aircraft to use biojet fuel by 2023, according to SAA Acting CEO Musa Zwane.

In 2013, Boeing and SAA launched their sustainable aviation fuels collaboration and in 2014, Project Solaris became the first focus project that converted oil from the solaris plant seed into biojet fuel. In 2015, solaris farms in Limpopo Province, South Africa, achieved certification from the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials, one of the strongest sustainability standards in the world. The objective is to plant sufficient volumes of solaris throughout South Africa, to generate enough feedstock to support a decent size local biorefinery. Currently, oil from solaris seeds is exported to AltAir Fuels in the U.S.A., where it is refined.

Project Solaris is a partnership between SAA, Boeing, industrial research company Sunchem, sustainable fuels specialists SkyNRG and the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials. Project Solaris is targeting 20 million litres of biojet fuel by the end of 2017 and 500 million litres by 2023, which is half the annual fuel requirement of SAA’s Johannesburg hub.

Ian Cruickshank, SAA’s environmental specialist, said that about 97% of the airline’s carbon emissions resulted from flying and only 3% from operations. He said the benefits of Project Solaris went beyond reducing SAA’s carbon emissions, however. It would also give SAA greater control over supply and pricing of its jet fuel, he said.

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