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Fry away with Thomson as airline uses vegetable oil to power flights

Thomson Airways is due to become Britain’s very first biofuel airline when it launches flights from Birmingham to Palma, Mallorca from the 28th of July 2011. The flight will operate on a 50/50 mixture of hydroprocessed esters and fatty acids – extracted from used cooking oil – and standard Jet A1 aviation fuel.

Flights will continue weekly from September for a year, switching to the Birmingham to Alicante route throughout the winter schedule. Dutch air travel company KLM were the first to attempt a biokerosene-powered flight back in 2009 with a one-off passenger flight. KLM also began its own regular scheduled biokerosene flights last Wednesday flying a Boeing 737-800 between Amsterdam and Paris, carrying 171 passengers.

KLM will operate further flights between Paris and Holland from September this year – using the same 50/50 fuel mixture Thomson plans to use. Chris Browne, managing director of Thomson said: “As sustainable biofuels become more commercially viable, Thomson Airways plans to expand its use of sustainable biofuels across its fleet over the next three years.”

This move follows plans made by top European airlines, the EU Commission and biofuel producers to make 2 million tonnes of aviation grade biofuel by the year 2020. However, despite their green ambitions, the plans have come under fire by protestors because they claim the land used to grow food crops such as palm oil – used in the production of the bio-oil component of the fuel – could and should be used to grow crops to feed people.

Dutch company SkyNRG will be supplying Thomson with its biofuel currently, but there are concerns about costs as sustainable biofuel is considerably more expensive to produce than regular aviation fuel, which experts believe is a premium that airlines simply cannot afford to pay in the current climate.

Aviation minister Theresa Villiers explained “the British government believes that sustainable biofuels have a role to play in efforts to tackle climate change, particularly in sectors where no other viable low carbon energy source has been identified — as is the case with aviation”.

Regardless, Thomson believes using biofuel will help to meet TUI Travel’s plans to reduce airline carbon emissions by 6 per cent between 2008 and 2014.