Productivity Gains, Flight Management & Clean Aviation Fuels

Productivity Gains, Flight Management & Clean Aviation Fuels

Research is ongoing into a number of alternative ways to produce jet biofuel, with algae remaining the great white hope, while Boeing – one of the aviation leaders driving the search for renewable energy for the industry – has found that by reducing its environmental footprint it is driving productivity improvements.  And air traffic management trials are now showing promising potential for airline fuel savings in real-world tests.

Steve Creedy, Aviation writer, for the Australian (16 April 2010):

Environmental strategies should be good business and can motivate staff, according to Boeing’s environmental program head Mary Armstrong.

Boeing ramped up its environmental strategy under chief executive Jim McInery about three years ago and has targeted a 25 per cent reduction in its environmental footprint by 2012.

It is focusing not only on its “four walls” internal processes but also on suppliers, its products in use and recycling products.

“We found that reducing the environmental footprint drives productivity improvements and the focus with our supply base is to look at the whole value stream and reduce together,” Ms Armstrong said at an aviation environmental conference held in Sydney last week.

“And every project and program we’ve looked at allows us to drive productivity and economics as well as an environmental footprint reduction so that’s really where our focus is.

“And you’ll see throughout this, our kind of action agenda and approach is (that) nothing can be environmentally sustainable if it’s not economically sustainable.”

Ms Armstrong said Boeing’s internal programs had environmental targets that included energy reductions coupled with green-house gas cuts, reducing hazardous waste and increasing the rate of recycling and reducing waste.

But it had found also that the value staff placed on the environment made them engage in a much more aggressive manner than business as usual.

“And each one of those reduction activities drives tremendous economic improvement,” she said.

“So we’ve been looking at reductions in our four walls for some time because it’s just plain good business.”

Ms Armstrong said another key element in its strategy was to become more transparent than it had been in the past.

Boeing was set to publish its third environment report and this would have the “good, the bad and the ugly”: what it was doing right, where it might not have met targets but was still moving forward, and where it had made “environmental missteps”.

“This notion of transparency, we feel, is extremely important as we build credibility in our environmental strategy,” she said.

Boeing announced this week that it was appointing Virginia Wheway to head its environmental program in Australia.

Ms Wheway, the first environmental health and safety director to be appointed outside the US, will develop Boeing’s local environmental strategy and will ensure it complies with local regulations.

To be based at Boeing Australia’s Sydney head office, she has been with the company’s advanced research and technology arm, Phantom Works, for eight years. Phantom Works has the US patent for an algorithm that monitors airborne aircraft and allows engineers to take action before a fault occurs.

Ms Wheway would report directly to her, Ms Armstrong said.


THE global financial crisis appears not to have slowed down research into biofuels but industry expectations about its growth and impact have become less certain.

Industry participants, at an environmental conference hosted by US manufacturer Boeing in Sydney this week, were split on how much of Australia’s aviation fuel would come from biofuel by 2020, with some opting for less than 5 per cent and others predicting 5 to 10 per cent.

Only one person thought it would be more than 10 per cent.

Boeing’s local operations are working on a figure of about 1 per cent local production by 2015 but the Boeing Commercial Airplanes managing director of environment strategy, Billy Glover, said it was too hard to predict what would happen.

“We’re at the beginning, the start of the slope,” he said. “No one knows what that slope will be over the next few years. We’re all aiming to push it higher in the right way.”

Mr Glover said a study early this year by E4Tech had laid out low, medium and high trajectories for the growth and availability of biofuel for aviation and had come up with a lowside projection of 5 to 10 per cent by 2020.

“They were apparently more bullish than a lot of people here,” he told the conference.

Research is ongoing into a number of alternative ways to produce biofuel, with algae remaining the great white hope.

Mr Glover, who is also chairman of the trade-based Algal Biomass Organisation, said algae researchers in the US had begun to scale-up production, facilitated by the US Defence Department’s interest in using biofuel in aircraft as well as ground and ocean-going assets. He said this had helped boost production and get people out of the laboratory into small-scale production.

“So obviously we’re seeing signs of getting to an answer. It’s still not clear, though, when and how much,” he said.

“People are protecting their intellectual property, their business opportunity until they’re pretty confident they’ll go ahead and move out.

“So I think the comments you hear are because no one’s quite showing their hand, not to the extent that you can really tell.”

Despite the uncertainty about algae, Mr Glover said he was more optimistic than he was a year ago.

He said there was some good work on cellulose waste materials and the use of animal fats.

“In the end, I think we’re just going to see a variety of things in a particular region or locality,” he said. “It’s going to be who’s there, what resources are available and what’s the local market.

“It will be really broad, and it will be changing over time as science matures and you have another option.”.

Fuel standards authorities are expected to approve biofuels for use in aircraft this year, but they will be subject to an extensive list of requirements about what process steps are required and what impurities it can contain.

Mr Glover did not believe the recession had slowed down research because most businesses were looking at a long-term plan and had investors that saw them through.

Qantas chief risk manager Rob Kella called on aircraft manufacturers to accelerate work on the next generation of improvements and predicted that setting up a supply chain for sustainable biofuels would be a long-term project critical for the industry between 2020 and 2050.

Mr Kella said the technical side of producing biofuels capable of being used in aircraft was not an issue but it was now a case of picking the right feedstock, considering different refining options and creating a supply chain that would deliver the fuel where it was needed for aircraft.

He also believed Australian airlines needed to put a more persuasive case for increased government attention on biofuels.

“I don’t think we’ve done that yet and we need to spend some more time with government about the benefits and looking at the Australian context in particular,” he said.

Improvements in air traffic management that were on the drawing board two years ago are now showing promising potential for airline fuel savings in real-world tests, according to Qantas chief risk officer Rob Kella.

The introduction of tailored arrivals and Required Navigation Performance approaches, as well as trials of the Asia and South Pacific Initiative to Reduce Emissions, had confirmed the airline’s preliminary view of reduced fuel usage, Mr Kella told The Australian during an environmental conference in Sydney this week. He said a call last year by Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce for greater government attention to the “infrastructure in the sky” had produced a positive response from Canberra.

“We’ve formed an air traffic management performance group, with senior levels within Qantas and Airservices Australia to really deal more strategically with how we can use this basket of different technologies and how we can roll those out effectively in an Australian context,” he said.

“I think we’re fortunate in many respects to have lots of room to manoeuvre in Australia; we’re not nearly as congested as, say, Europe and North America have been. So it’s great opportunity for Australian industry to really develop. But we’ve also got to listen to community concerns.”

Modern jets come equipped with advanced technologies that allow them to use more efficient flight paths and airport approaches. But the environmental gains from using these new approaches can put airlines at odds with local communities.

Mr Kella said the lower thrust levels needed using modern technology translated to a lower noise footprint, but it could also put planes over areas where they had not been seen before, creating a lot of angst. “So I think we’ve got to work strategically with the community, AirServices Australia, etc on how we can use this and create an open discussion . . . on how we can balance some of these competing forces, agendas if you will,” he said.

Mr Kella also warned of the “depressing” environmental regulatory situation as various governments introduced a variety of taxes, charges and emission trading schemes. He put the chances of the industry achieving a global industry approach to environmental measures at “probably no more than 50-50″.


One Response to “Productivity Gains, Flight Management & Clean Aviation Fuels”

  1. Algae is renewable, does not affect the food channel and consumes CO2. Commercial-scale algae production plants are being built today with all off-the-shelf technologies. To learn more about the fast-track commercialization of the algae industry, you may want to check out the National Algae Association. They are working on 100 acre scale-up issues through their Engineering Consortium.

Leave a Reply