Airbus and Air Canada collaborated on North America’s first “Perfect Flight” over international borders yesterday, to showcase how existing technology can cut CO2 emissions by more than 40 per cent from a regular flight.

Flying from Toronto, Canada to Mexico City, the commercial flight numbered AC991 and serviced by an Airbus A319 was the second leg of four biofuel flights taking International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) secretary general Raymond Benjamin to Rio de Janeiro for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. It took two months to organise the flight.

The bio-fuel blend used for the flight consisted of 50 per cent used cooking oil and was supplied by SkyNRG, a company launched in November 2009 by Air France KLM Group, North Sea Group and strategy consulting firm Spring Associates. The A319 chose the most direct route, used the most efficient vertical flight profile and applied a Continuous Descent Approach (CDA) into Mexico City to save fuel and limit noise. All these were combined with single engine-taxiing, external aircraft cleaning (for improved aerodynamics), light weight cabin equipment and a tailored flight plan to maximise the result.

Airbus president and chief executive Fabrice Brégier said that the flight “proves that the aviation industry is in a strong position to reduce emissions” and to make “Perfect Flights” a day-to-day commercial reality, it would require “a political will to foster incentives to scale up the use of sustainable biofuels and accelerate modernisation of the air-traffic-management system.” The aircraft manufacturer vows to grow carbon neutral by 2020 while improving fuel efficiency by 1.5 per cent per year.

Airlines around the world have been regularly testing the use of sustainable fuels, including Thai Airways which operated Asia’s first biofuel-powered passenger flight at the end of last year (click here). For a round-up on Asia-Pacific airlines that have been taking steps to experiment with biofuels, see story here.

Reggie Ho