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The Green Life: Biofueled Flights Take Off

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July 21, 2011

Biofueled Flights Take Off

Biofuel airplane Just after ten o'clock last night, a bulky Finnair Airbus touched down on a runway in Helsinki, having just completed the longest commercial biofueled flight to date. The plane, which departed from Amsterdam, was powered by a blend of standard (read: not green) aviation fuel mixed with SkyNRG's more sustainable biofuel. 

The record-breaking Finnair flight comes on the heels (wings?) of other European air carriers' biofuel anouncements, with Lufthansa launching its inaugural biofuel flight last week and KLM aiming for 200 cooking-oil-powered flights starting next September.

And though the move toward alternatively powered planes represents a step in the right direction for the fossil-fueled airline industry, biofuel costs are still too prohibitive to launch entire fleets of veggie planes just yet. What's more, there are a few major problems — namely deforestation and inadequate food resources — with current methods of biofuel production. While those issues are being worked on, they're preventing airlines from running guilt-free bio-flights anytime soon. Regardless, the effort is appreciated in an industry responsible for significant amounts of air pollution and carbon emissions. As for whether U.S. airlines like United and American are getting on board, well, uh, not so much.

But perhaps more exciting than the burgeoning bio-flight industry is the potential for entirely electric commercial flights in the near future. Small companies like Pipistrel and the Electric Aircraft Corporation have already rolled out electric-only models of small aircraft for private ownership, but you regularly trip over stacks of money, these models aren't very reasonable.

As for more realistic options, last month's Paris Air Show was a smorgasbord of green aviation innovation, with hybrids, solar planes, and hypersonic electric airliners galore. With such sustainable concepts in the works, soaring fuel costs and dwindling oil reserves may not yet spell the end of the age of commercial air travel.

--Colin Griffin

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