Boeing, South African Airways, Mango mark Africa’s First Commercial Flights with Sustainable Aviation Biofuel

July 17, 2016 |

In South Africa, Boeing, South African Airways and low-cost carrier Mango celebrated Africa’s first passenger flights with sustainable aviation biofuel.  The SAA and Mango flights carried 300 passengers from Johannesburg to Cape Town on Boeing 737-800s using a blend of 30 percent aviation biofuel produced from Sunchem’s nicotine-free tobacco plant Solaris, refined by AltAir Fuels and supplied by SkyNRG.

The partners today also launched a stakeholder and sustainability plan called the Southern Africa Sustainable Fuel Initiative (SASFI) to ensure a long-term domestic fuel supply for SAA and other regional fuel users. The goal is to scale-up over the next several years to gain additional biofuel capacity. If successful, farmers will be able to tap into local and global demand for certified feedstock without adverse impact to food supplies, fresh water or land use.

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 bio-jet fuel. In 2015, farms in Limpopo Province of South Africa, from which the biofuel for today’s flights was sourced, achieved certification from the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB), one of the strongest sustainability standards in the world. RSB certification provides a model for expansion of Project Solaris to larger scale production. The initiative also focuses on South Africa’s goals for public health, rural development and economic and employment opportunities for farmers by increasing production of Solaris and other feedstocks on under-utilized land.

RSB is a global sustainability solution that also brings solutions for smallholders to improve their livelihoods by linking them to markets and promoting sustainable practices based on the RSB standard. This project in Limpopo region of South Africa is a great example of that work in action and making a positive impact.

The fuel used in these inaugural flights originate from an innovative feedstock called Solaris by Sunchem. Sunchem has gone through RSB’s rigorous certification process to ensure their nicotine-free tobacco “Solaris” is produced environmentally, socially and ethically sustainable.

In order for this flight to be fully certified fuel, however, we need next steps…we need to get the entire supply chain fully certified in order to really make an impact and reduce GHG emissions for aviation. The great news is this should soon be a reality as the supply chain is expected to be RSB certified later this year. That means we may soon have fully RSB certified SAA flights, which will be a turning point for sustainable aviation.

“SAA is committed to a sustainable future and this flight highlights the bold steps we are taking to protect and preserve our environment while creating opportunities for the economic development of our people,” said Musa Zwane, acting CEO of SAA. “We are pleased to join the ranks of global airlines who have made a commitment to a better and cleaner way of flying.”

“It is fitting that on our 100 year anniversary we are flying on fuels ‎that not only power the flight, but ensure a sustainable future for our industry,” said Miguel Santos, managing director for Africa, Boeing International. “This project is a great example of environmental stewardship that delivers economic and health benefits to South Africa.”

“WWF is working with RSB to ensure that aviation biofuel development in sub-Saharan Africa is sustainable for both the environment and human needs. In the context of a growing population, shifting water availability and increasing environmental degradation, it is critical to ensure that reducing aviation’s carbon emissions does not have corollary impacts on the places and people most at risk from climate change. WWF recognizes that RSB has the highest sustainability demands for such projects, and so they are working to ensure that the RSB guidelines are integrated regionally as an underpinning for the development of biofuel. WWF is also undertaking a study to evaluate the regional potential for sustainable biofuel, and to assist in targeting development only in those areas where it can ensure the greatest ecological and social integrity.”

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