The first commercial flight to run on a biofuel blend derived from cooking oil has just taken off from Seattle. I'm on board, and about now, we're somewhere over the Rocky Mountains. As we reported earlier this week, Alaska Airlines announced that it will power 75 of its flights with an aviation biofuel blend prepared by Dynamic Fuels. The blend is 20% cooking oil, 80% traditional jet fuel, and no, it doesn't smell like the inside of a greasy kitchen. Unfortunately.
So why am I on board? Good question. Alaska Airlines invited me along to report on exactly what it feels like to be on board the second-ever commercial biofueled flight to soar into the American skies. My report so far? Feels like every other commercial 737 flight I've ever been on, except more of the passengers are talking about biofuels instead of reading celebrity magazines.
And yes, I said second commercial biofuel flight: United Airlines got the jump on Alaska and launched its first algae-fueled flight last Monday. Read more about that development in my previous post here.
The passengers on the maiden voyage -- those who don't work for Dynamic, Alaska, or Boeing, that is, as there are a slew of industry folks on board for the occasion -- have a wide range of reactions to the news that they're riding aboard a plane running partly on biofuels. Some are indifferent, some are enthusiastic.
"I think it's awesome," a passenger named Laura Hagood told me. "We obviously burn a lot of jet fuels, and this will help raise awareness." Others said they didn't care one way or another, but they trusted that the blend was safe. Only one, Chad Manning of Delaware, said that he'd be more likely to fly with an airline that supported biofuels. Ultimately, the ticket price was the determining factor.
As for the biofuel itself, Robert Ames of Dynamic Fuels says that it's "chemically identical" to aviation fuels. Which means, that though it only comprises 20% of the blend on this flight, planes could run solely on the biofuel. In fact, the fuel has been approved for blends of up to 50% in aviation fuels -- and 100% in ground transportation fuels.
I'll be updating as I go, in case there are any unexpected revelations about how flying with 20% cooking oil in the gas tank changes one's inflight experience ...
UPDATE: A 'Fly Green Tweet Up' is in progress with biofuel pros from the industry. Follow along at Tweetvite.
UPDATE: The flight experience is still identical to any other commercial flight. Folks keep tweeting me to ask if it smells like french fries, and I'll reiterate: Nope, not at all. Biodiesel is what typically smells like an old diner when it's burned -- this biofuel is processed and refined to the point of odorlessness.