Bizav Leaders Describe SAF Benefits, Costs

sustainability panel
L-r, Stewart D’Leon of NBAA, Juan Muniz of Universal Weather & Aviation and Netflix Chief Pilot Brock Jordan.
Credit: Bill Carey

SAN DIEGO―Even as biofuel suppliers and fixed-base operators (FBOs) ramp up the availability of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), aircraft operators remain uncertain about the composition of SAF and the complexity of using it to claim emissions reductions, business aviation leaders say.

“SAF is Jet A,” said Stewart D’Leon, NBAA director of environmental and technical operations. “It’s extremely important to understand that because a lot of individuals are thinking ‘this is something different, it’s an additive, the aircraft is going to operate different.’ It’s not an additive. It is Jet A that is just produced by recycling carbon that is already in the atmosphere. That is where the [carbon] reduction is coming from; it’s from the lifecycle of that fuel.”

D’Leon and other panelists provided an update on global emissions reduction mandates and carbon-offsetting efforts April 5 at the NBAA Schedulers and Dispatchers Conference. The association formed a sustainability subcommittee last year to drive environmental awareness and help business aircraft operators pursue initiatives necessary to achieve an industry-wide goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Aviation accounts for roughly 2% of global CO2 emissions, and the business aviation segment accounts for 2% of that amount, or 0.04% of carbon emissions, according to the industry. Not addressing emissions now, however, could lead to the situation that exists for leaded aviation fuel, D’Leon warned. Once insignificant when compared to automobiles, piston aircraft that operate on leaded avgas are the largest remaining source of lead emissions into the air, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“It became clear that we needed a committee to disperse information, knowledge, awareness, acronyms, regulatory requirements,” said Netflix Chief Pilot Brock Jordan, a subcommittee co-chairman. “What is SAF? That is an actual question that we get quite often,” he added. “Is it safe to put in my aircraft? [The questions] might sound dumb to some individuals but to others these are big questions. The main goal for our subcommittee is to create awareness, a repository of information.”

Jordan advised that operators budget a year in advance to use SAF, which comes at “green premium” cost of a dollar or more per gallon over conventional Jet A. “We’re adding to our direct operating costs,” he explained. “We’re going to have to take this to our principals, take this to our owners and validate this.”

Netflix committed during 2021-22 to solely using SAF for its shuttle fleet of four Beechcraft King Air 350 turboprops, which it uses to move employees between Burbank and San Jose, California. The streaming service is also evaluating the emissions reductions that can be gained by using SAF for its three Gulfstream G550 long-range jets, Jordan told BCA. Part of its strategy will be to use book-and-claim programs that allow operators to purchase a specific quantity of SAF even where it is not available—paying the premium in order to claim an emissions reduction credit.

For now, at least, the process of using or acquiring credits for SAF is complicated, Jordan told conference attendees. “This is not a one-person project, a one-person job,” he said. “Bring in your flight coordinators, bring in your pilots, bring in your mechanics—everybody is going to have a piece to add to this puzzle. Just purchasing SAF, there’s so much that comes along with how [you’re] going to catalog it and document it.”
 

Bill Carey

Based in Washington, DC, Bill covers avionics, air traffic management and aviation safety for Aviation Week. A former daily newspaper reporter, he has covered the commercial, business and military aviation segments as well as unmanned aircraft systems. Prior to joining Aviation Week in November 2017, he worked for Aviation International News and Avionics and Rotor & Wing magazines.