fueling the future of business aviation

September 12, 2019

Fuel – without it, Business Aviation wouldn’t even get off the ground. Not only is it one of the essential ingredients to flight, it’s also one of the most expensive. So it should come as no surprise that operators are always looking for fuel options that will take them farther for less. Hence the focus on sustainable alternative jet fuels (SAJFs). Nick Klenske reports

SAJF is a class of non-petroleum-based jet fuels or blended components. Flying on sustainable aviation fuel reduces crude oil consumption and produces lower lifecycle carbon emissions compared to conventional jet fuel. It is made by blending conventional, fossil-based kerosene with renewable hydrocarbons produced from, for example, recycled cooking oil. Certified as ‘Jet-A1’ fuel, it can then be used in aircraft without requiring any technical modifications.

“It possesses similar properties, qualities and characteristics as Jet A and Jet A-1 fuel, meaning aircraft perform the same under all conditions, operators don’t have to fly differently and no modifications to aircraft equipment are needed,” says Bombardier Senior Public Relations and Sustainability Advisor Dominique Cristall.

“SAJF is, quite simply, Jet-A in every way: a drop-in fuel that has undergone exhaustive testing and meets all specifications and requirements,” adds General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) President and CEO Pete Bunce.

“Alternative fuels can help the Business Aviation industry achieve such goals as carbon neutral growth by 2020, fuel efficiencies of 2% annually through 2050 and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 50% by 2050,” adds Gulfstream Aerospace Corporate Sustainability Process Manager Roger Bowman.

Seeing alternative fuels as the future of Business Aviation, EBACE 2019 put them front and center. Under the banner of ‘Fueling the Future’, the event welcomed a record number of aircraft – 23 in all – who arrived in Geneva fueled by SAFJs.

“The record-setting EBACE SAJF Fly-In was a milestone in Business Aviation’s commitment to sustainability and reducing carbon emissions,” says EBAA Chairman of the Board of Governors Juergen Wiese.

“Business Aviation has always led the way in promoting technologies that advance the sustainability of flight, and it is appropriate that we highlighted our focus in this area at EBACE through the fly-in,” adds NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen.

Production and use of the alternate fuels are key to the industry’s Business Aviation Commitment on Climate Change (BACCC), which, among other aims, seeks to achieve carbon neutral growth from 2020 forward. In fact, 2019 marks the 10th anniversary of the BACCC, an initiative of GAMA and the International Business Aviation Council (IBAC). In addition to reducing carbon emissions and achieving carbon-neutral growth, the BACCC committed Business Aviation to improving fuel efficiency by 2% per year from 2010 through 2020. This is to be achieved via the use of new technologies, infrastructure and operational improvements, market-based measures and the development of alternative fuels.

“The fleet of 23 aircraft that flew into Geneva on sustainable aviation fuel represents the global commitment by Business Aviation to mitigate its carbon emissions and contribute to the goal of carbon-neutral growth from 2020,” says IBAC Director General Kurt Edwards. “The fly-in also demonstrated the viability of these drop-in fuels and provides further proof to the industry that we can fly with SAJF now!”

Just over half of the jets that participated in the fly-in were supported by World Fuel, who has been a long-time supporter of the development of SAJFs. Since 2015, the company has delivered nearly 500,000 gallons of SAJF to Business Aviation customers, not to mention over 13 million gallons to commercial customers. “We were an early supporter of alternative fuel technology, and now are an industry leader in the promotion and distribution of SAJF,” says World Fuel’s Mike Szczechowski. “We invested early and continue our full support on SAJF to reduce CO2 emissions.”

For EBACE, World Fuel partnered with Gevo, a leading next generation biofuels company, to provide JET A1 blended specifically with Gevo’s sustainable and renewable alcoholto-jet fuel (AJT). The blended fuel meets ASTM D1655 and DefStan 91-091 standards for commercial, business and general aviation use.

“Our fuel offers the potential to not only significantly reduce the carbon footprint of jet fuel, but it also has the potential to generate 5kg of protein and animal feed for the food chain,” explains Dr. Patrick Gruber, CEO, Gevo. “It’s a ‘circular economy’ type of system in real life, and it can make a difference for the environment, and for food.”

Fuel Companies Are Onboard Too

But the drive towards SAJF isn’t just coming from industry associations and government agencies, the fuel companies are onboard too. For example, earlier this year Air BP announced it was offering sustainable aviation fuel to Business Aviation customers at Stockholm Arlanda airport in Sweden and Caen Carpiquet airport in France.

The announcement is an outcome of an agreement that Air BP entered with leading renewable products producer Neste to explore opportunities to increase the supply and availability of SAJF. Through this innovative collaboration, Neste’s knowledge and manufacturing solutions for producing and blending renewable jet fuel are combined with Air BP’s customer relationships, expertise in developing efficient and effective supply chains, as well as their certification and product quality assurance capabilities.

One goal of the cooperation is complementary efforts to bring a co-branded sustainable aviation fuel to market at airports across Air BP’s global network. “We believe it is important to keep working with multiple suppliers, customers and partners, and using expertise from across the global BP organization to support the commercialization of sustainable aviation fuel,” says Irene Lores, Global Sales and Marketing Director, General Aviation, Air BP.

“Collaborating with Air BP, we can find the best ways of developing robust supply chains to ensure that sustainable aviation fuel is more widely accessible to aviation customers,” adds Peter Vanacker, President and CEO, Neste.

On a Mission

With a focus on innovation, Avfuel is leading the mission to further industry advancements – and this includes sustainable aviation fuel. “Avfuel’s experts in alternative fuels are working diligently to bring SAJF to market and play an active role in our industry’s mission for carbon neutrality,” says Keith Sawyer, Manager of Alternative Fuels at Avfuel. “Our involvement includes ongoing demonstration days where SAJF is supplied in limited quantities as a means of promoting awareness and adoption of SAJF in Business Aviation.”

Avfuel also regularly participates in technical panels at such industry events as EBACE and NBAA-BACE, along with various special SAJF-focused events. The company also developed an exclusive agreement with Gevo, Inc. to be the leading next-generation biofuels company’s exclusive Business Aviation fuel supplier in North America.

“We’re also busy securing commitments from customers interested in purchasing SAJF, which is essential to encouraging producers to increase outputs,” adds Sawyer.

Leading the Low Carbon Transition

As reported earlier this year, Shell Aviation and SkyNRG announced a long-term strategic collaboration to promote and develop the use of sustainable fuel in aviation supply chains. The collaboration combines Shell Aviation’s technical and commercial expertise, world-class supply chain and carbon management operations with SkyNRG’s proven track record of supplying sustainable aviation fuels and in-depth knowledge of this market. The agreement is a multi-year collaboration, with both companies acknowledging that the path to lower carbon emissions in aviation requires long-term commitment. The collaboration will focus on the joint development and funding of new opportunities to extend the use of and build more resilient supply chains for sustainable aviation fuels. This will be coupled with the development of a range of comprehensive carbon management options that will provide support to Shell Aviation and SkyNRG customers.

“We want Shell to be a leader in the low carbon transition in aviation fuels,” says Shell Aviation Vice President Anne Anderson. “This agreement with industry pioneers SkyNRG demonstrates the type of progressive collaboration that can help move us towards a lower carbon emissions future. Working together, we believe we can advance sustainable solutions for the benefit of our entire industry.”

Improving Performance

Likewise, EPIC Fuels has also been playing an ever-increasing role in growing the acceptance of sustainable biofuels and biofuel blends used in jet aviation. Over the last several years, the company has provided both technical and logistic expertise in programs for sustainable fuel alternatives. Highlights include flights flown by Alaska Airlines in 2016 using a blend of biofuel produced from non-edible, sustainable corn and renewable biofuel made from residual wood and Singapore Airlines’ first-ever flight powered by a blend of sustainable biofuel made from used cooking oil and conventional jet fuel.

Most recently, the company provided expertise in fuel blending as well as technical and logistical support to Virgin Atlantic and LanzaTech to enable the first-ever commercial flight using a unique blend of petroleum-based jet fuel and alcohol-to-jet synthetic paraffinic kerosene (ATJ-SPK) fuel produced from waste gases. LanzaTech’s pioneering technology captures carbon-rich industrial waste gases such as those from steel mills and recycles them into ethanol. The ethanol, in turn, can be used for a variety of low carbon products, including being upgraded to ATJ-SPK, which can be blended into jet fuel.

“As a fuel provider, EPIC Fuels recognizes the need to find alternatives to petroleum-only based jet fuel,” says Kai Sorenson, Director of Commercial Sales for EPIC Fuels. “We’ve participated in multiple demonstration flights to identify and fast track technologies that can improve the environmental performance of aviation and gained unmatched experience with blending fuels.”

With industry associations, OEMs and fuel providers all fully embracing sustainable alternative jet fuels, it seems that the future is already here. Now all that is needed for SAJFs to truly fuel the future of Business Aviation is for operators to start filling their tanks!

BizAv Best Practices: Avoiding Fuel Delays

With Universal Weather & Aviation’s Grant Bradshaw

Get a fuel release/arrange fuel a week prior, whenever able

Notify your fuel provider in advance of your aircraft type, registration, dates and times of operation and volume requirements. This is doubly important if you operate larger GA equipment. It’s best to organize fuel releases about one week in advance to ensure receipt by the local supplier and a confirmation response. When planning quick-turn tech stops, it’s always good practice to follow up and re-confirm the uplift with the fuel provider a day prior to refueling. Having said this, we also do not recommend requesting fuel releases too far in advance as the local fuel provider may misplace the release, causing possible day-of-operation delays.

Choose airports and/or ground handlers that have their own fuel trucks

Since commercial airlines will almost always take priority over GA, one way to avoid this issue is to choose airports and ground handlers/FBOs with their own dedicated fuel trucks for GA. Certain international airports have fuel trucks dedicated to GA. This is most common in the US, Canada and certain locations in Europe, such as London-Stansted Airport. Some FBOs also have their own fuel trucks. For instance, we operate our own trucks at Universal Aviation Mexico – Toluca and Universal Aviation Ireland – Dublin. When making fuel arrangements, ask your contract fuel provider and/or your handler about your fuel truck options.

Avoid peak periods of commercial activity

An effective means of mitigating fuel delays is to schedule quick turns and destination stop uplifts away from peak periods of scheduled commercial activity. This tactic can be particularly beneficial at busy Mediterranean holiday destinations where scheduled commercial fuel requirements always take precedence over GA.

Fuel on arrival vs departure

Fueling on arrival rather than departure is a viable strategy at high-traffic airports or during peak periods. This is particularly important when attending high-traffic events where delays and shortages are common.

Use an alternate airport if that’s an option and consider quick-turn tech stops

Many destinations have multiple airport options. Do your research in advance to find out the advantages/disadvantages regarding fueling, depending on your final destination and schedule.

Lean on your contract fuel provider

When you are traveling to familiar destinations, making reservations through an app is easy and often the way to go. But at new destinations, or ones that can be challenging (due to lack of infrastructure, congestion, political unrest, frequent strikes, etc. ) it’s worth a quick call or email to your contract fuel provider. For instance, here at the UVair Fuel Program, we have a whole team dedicated to staying on top supply issues worldwide. Part of our program is to provide pre-trip fuel consultations whenever needed so that our clients can make the best fueling decisions for their missions. There is no cost for this – it’s just part of the service our clients get.

Air BP Expands Carbon Offset Program

Air BP used the LABACE stage to announce the expansion of its pioneering carbon offset program for Business Aviation. The program will be extended to two of Voa São Paulo’s airports, a Brazilian private airport administration consortium, which are now part of Air BP’s supply network. Jundiaí and Amarais airports are the first to join the program, and there is the potential to expand the offer to more of Voa São Paulo’s locations in the future.

“We are very proud of this new collaboration with Voa São Paulo,” says Ricardo Paganini, general manager, Air BP South America. “Our carbon offset program, which complements our existing focus on customer service and safety in operations, is a significant step towards making Brazilian Business Aviation more sustainable.”

Air BP launched its carbon offsetting offer for Business Aviation in Brazil in 2018. Its first customer, business aircraft management company Avantto, offset more than 1,000 tons of carbon emissions from June 2018 to May 2019 – the equivalent of 1,588 trips from São Paulo (SP / HBR) to Angra dos Reis (RJ) or the carbon that could be captured by almost 73,000 adult trees. The agreement with Avantto has been renewed for another year, enabling customers to offset the emissions related to the fuel supplied to the company by Air BP.

This builds on initiatives by Air BP in other regions, such as their collaboration with on-demand jet charter marketplace Victor in a carbon-offset programme for private flying in Europe, as well as the ability for operators and pilots who use the RocketRoute MarketPlace app to offset the carbon associated with their fuel purchases.

The Air BP carbon offset programme is run via BP Target Neutral. Projects within the BP Target Neutral portfolio have been assessed on the basis of their contribution to reducing carbon emissions and their potential to support the UN’s sustainable development goals. They have been selected for their suitability in improving livelihoods for the communities they are located in, or through various educational, economic and social benefits.

Air BP’s carbon offset program for Business Aviation is part of BP’s commitment to achieving a lower carbon future, addressing the dual challenge of meeting the increasing energy the world demands, while at the same time working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It complements Air BP’s own carbon neutral plane fuelling operations at 250 locations around the world.

Challenges and Opportunities Ahead

One-on-One with Avfuel

BART recently had the opportunity to sit down with Joel Hirst, Avfuel Vice President of Sales, and Marci Ammerman, Afuel Vice President of Marketing, to get an inside look at their business and discuss the challenges and opportunities that face the Business Aviation fuel sector.

BART: When we talk market challenges, what immediately comes to mind?

Hirst: We continue to see challenges in fuel transportation. The US is experiencing an unprecedented truck driver shortage. This is compounded by new electronic data logs required in the US that closely monitor and restrict available duty and drive hours per day. Because aviation competes with all other fuel-using industries to use the same hauling companies, these challenges decrease flexibility for short-notice fuel orders. While Avfuel has always been able to reliably provide the fuel its customers require, to capitalize on flexibility in terms of time and cost, we always suggest that our customers pre-order as far in advance as possible, especially during peak travel months.

BART: Today, everything seems to be about technology. How does technology impact the fuel industry?

Ammerman: We see developing technologies being both a strength and a challenge. Of course, adopting new technologies can vastly improve safety and efficiencies in fueling operations, as we’ve seen over the years—FBOs can keep better real-time inventory of fuel and products, keep detailed notes on customer preferences, and make transactions more efficient with better technologies. Operators also benefit from simpler flight planning and reservations for trips made easy.

That being said, Avfuel strongly believes that technology cannot be a replacement for human interactions, and that’s a challenge we believe the industry will face. Wherein lies the balance between automation and personalization?

At Avfuel, our collaborative relationships model continues to be our greatest differentiator. Our customers conduct business with us because of our people. We utilize modern technology to provide efficient solutions, but technology can never replace the value behind 24/7 access to experts that empathize with needs and provide support in a caring, dedicated and passionate way.

BART: Although we tend to focus on the fuel suppliers, the ‘action’ happens at the FBOs. What are you hearing from Avfuel’s substantial network?

Hirst: As a fuel supplier who actively listens to the needs and pain points of its customers, we’ve also been hearing more about the challenge of the FBO to enhance its offerings with upscale facilities and modernized services—which takes an extensive amount of resources in terms of staffing and capital—while facing the pressures of a competitive marketplace. It’s a market in which FBOs feel inclined to reduce the prices and fees that feed into the profit margins that are used to make enhancements and cover operating expenses (employee wages, leaseholds, insurance, training, etc.). It creates a challenge as they simultaneously increase their overhead while reducing their net profit per transaction in the hope of attracting more clientele.

Furthermore, we’re seeing a renewed effort in the FBO market for new hangar construction to accommodate larger business jets. This makes for more accommodating facilities for flight operators and greater business opportunities for FBOs.

BART: What’s Avfuel doing to help?

Ammerman: This summer, Avfuel launched a new knowledge-sharing tool for its branded FBO network: The Avfuel Network Discussion Board. Available through the FBO’s avfuel.com account, this tool enables FBOs to ask questions of one another by starting a discussion and respond to existing discussions to share their expertise. Furthermore, members can ‘follow’ discussions to stay updated on any additional postings.

It’s been a rewarding experience to watch the discussion board take life as our branded partners ask one another about payment processing, de-icing products and other operational and safety procedures. It validates the need and the desire for a knowledge-sharing outlet to connect network members. We strongly believe one of the best ways for companies to provide exceptional service is by learning from each other through knowledge-sharing best practices.

With 650-plus FBOs at our fingertips, as a network we can be each other’s most useful resource. We can help promote best practices and share experiences in a way that connects us unlike any other fuel-supplier branded network.

Furthermore, we’re always concerned with fuel handling and looking for ways to help make operations throughout the network safer. With that initiative top of mind, we’re pleased to share the addition of a free, special training program on the online Avfuel Training System devoted to best practices for handling diesel exhaust fluid (DEF). This includes recommendations for storing and handling the product, mitigating contamination upon receipt of fuel, and steps to take should a fuel handler suspect DEF contamination. Our goal is to do whatever we can to help mitigate the risks involved with fueling mishaps, especially in light of the various events recently reported in the industry in regard to DEF.

Additionally, we continue to make enhancements to our card processing systems, particularly for transactions with the Avfuel Pro Card, which saves our branded network FBOs money on transactions (0% processing fees on contract fuel sales). We’ve also been focused on increasing usage of our cards. The Avfuel Pro Card is not just for contract fuel purchases, it also allows flight departments and pilots to put everything (fuel and non-fuel items with or without a fuel sale) on one transaction, saving them time and money (no annual fees or transaction fees on any purchases for the account holder) at the front counter.