An A340-600 operated by Qatar Airways completed the world's first commercial passenger flight powered by a fuel made from natural gas today, paving the way for a viable alternative to oil-based aviation fuel for airlines.
Equipped by Rolls-Royce Trent 556 engines, this Airbus aircraft made the historic journey from the United Kingdom's London Gatwick airport to Doha, Qatar, in a trip lasting more than six hours.
The A340-600 utilised GTL (Gas-to-Liquids) Jet Fuel - a 50-50 blend of synthetic GTL kerosene and conventional oil-based kerosene fuel. GTL kerosene is cleaner than its oil-derived counterpart currently used with commercial aircraft and results in lower emissions.
The flight is the latest step in more than two years of scientific research by a consortium consisting of Airbus, Qatar Airways, Qatar Petroleum, Qatar Science & Technology Park, Rolls-Royce, Shell and Qatar Fuel into the benefits of using GTL Jet Fuel to power commercial aircraft. In February 2008, this consortium marked a milestone when a test Airbus A380 became the first civil airliner in commercial aviation history to fly using GTL Jet Fuel.
Today's successful flight opens the door for the launch of GTL - expected to be available in commercial quantities during 2012 - on a world scale for the first time. Alternative fuels like GTL contribute to the diversification of the aviation fuel supply and help improve air quality around busy airports.
The State of Qatar is set to become a world-leading producer of GTL kerosene through its Pearl GTL project, currently under construction by Qatar Petroleum and Shell, which is targeting the output of approximately one million tonnes per annum from 2012.
Last month, 50-50 GTL Jet Fuel was fully approved as safe for use in civil aviation by ASTM International, one of the largest voluntary standards-developing organisations in the world. This standard paves the way for eventual 100 percent synthetic jet fuel approval, and signals further progress towards reducing aviation's environmental footprint.