Airbus Super-Jumbo Tests Out New Synthetic Fuel

Airbus is planning a first flight powered by bio-fuels in 2009.

An Airbus A380 super jumbo, the world's largest passenger aircraft, flew to Toulous, France on Feb. 1 from Britain using a new synthetic fuel said to be cleaner and more efficient than traditional kerosene. The A380 left Filton, near Bristol, on the first flight using GTL -- Gas to Liquid -- earlier in the day. Three of the giant plane's four engines were powered by conventional kerosene and the fourth with the new fuel.

Shell supplied the GTL for the flight, saying on its website that for transport, it is "a clear, clean fuel, virtually free of sulphur and aromatics and has a very high" combustion level. It also has "significantly lower emissions of local pollutants, such as particulates, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides," it said.

Airbus said the flight allowed it to see how the engine responded. One of the two pilots on board the plane, which had "Greener, cleaner, quieter, smarter" emblazoned on its fuselage, said there appeared to have been no difference between the conventional and GTL powered engines. "This is the beginning of a major research programme," said Fabrice Bregier, Airbus chief executive, shortly after landing. "This new fuel ... will be available relatively soon," he added.

Last November Airbus, Rolls Royce, Shell and Qatar Airways agreed to co-operate on this project. Qatar holds about 15% of the world's known gas reserves and Qatar Airways is aiming to be the first carrier to use the new fuel. A refinery to produce the fuel is being built by Qatar Petroleum and from 2011, all Qatar Airways planes should be using it.

Tests with GTL might open the way to the use of bio-fuels but these are not available in commercial quantities as yet -- something that will take some time, Bregier said.

Airbus is planning a first flight powered by bio-fuels in 2009.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2008

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