With the delivery of its first Airbus A350 last month, Cathay Pacific embarked on a biofuel test program in anticipation of regular commercial use in the coming years. We talked with Cathay Pacific to see how using biofuels is different than traditional fuels and what the airline has planned for the rest of its A350 deliveries.
How is Biofuel Different?
Biofuels use living plants, as opposed to fossil crude oil, to produce substances that can be used for fuel production, such as oils and sugars. Even the plant itself or plant remains can be used as feedstock for fuel production. The environmental benefit of biofuels is that the plants sequester today’s CO2 which is then re-released back into the atmosphere, rather than adding additional CO2.
Airlines today use a combination of JETA or JETA1 fuels that meet internationally accepted specifications. All aviation biofuels must meet these same specifications once blended with fossil fuel. Biofuels meeting these standards are deemed ‘drop-in’, meaning they can be stored, handled, and used in exactly the same way as traditional fossil-derived jet fuel.
How is Cathay Pacific Using Biofuel?
All of Cathay’s Airbus A350-900 deliveries will use a 10% blend of biofuel supplied by Amyris in conjunction with TOTAL. The intent of these flights is for Cathay to become accustomed to using biofuels as they move closer to use in regular commercial flights. In 2014, Cathay invested in US biofuel producer Fulcrum Bioenergy, which uses ‘everyday household garbage’ to make fuel. Fuel from Fulcrum is expected to be delivered to Cathay by 2019. Fulcrum has also committed to supplying fuel to United Airlines, Alaska Airlines, and Sea-Tac Airport. Until 2019, Cathay’s A350 delivery flights will help build biofuel experience.
Tracking Cathay Pacific Biofuel Flights
The airline will take delivery of 22 A350-900 aircraft, and an additional 26 -1000 series. A new aircraft is expected on average once per month, with some months seeing two deliveries. Cathay Pacific has designated their A350-900s with the registration format ‘B-LR[A, B, C, etc]’ making deliveries easy to track with a registration filter. In the registration filter field, enter ‘B-LR’. B-LRA, -LRB, and -LRC have already been delivered and B-LRD will be delivered soon. You can also combine callsign and aircraft type filters to see the flights. For callsign, enter ‘CPA’ and for aircraft type enter ‘A35’.
Taking delivery of an aircraft is a multi-step process. Once Airbus has flown the aircraft and tested the systems, it is then flown by Cathay Pacific crew. Assuming they are happy, further checks and inspections are carried out on the ground by Airbus and Cathay engineers until all parties are satisfied with the aircraft’s condition. Once the aircraft is paid for, certificates are issued, and the ‘keys’ are handed over to the new owner. For Airbus deliveries in Toulouse, aircraft are handed over at the Delivery Centre, which is effectively a miniature airport, complete with check-in, customs, and a lounge. While the departing flights may be unique, the boarding process is just like any other flight down to boarding passes and assigned seating.
B-LRA fueling photos by Kingsley Birkett, courtesy of Cathay Pacific.