Alaska Airlines and sister carrier Horizon Air will fly 75 commercial passenger flights in the United States partly powered by biofuel, starting on November...

Alaska Airlines and sister carrier Horizon Air will fly 75 commercial passenger flights in the United States partly powered by biofuel, starting on November 9.

According to Alaska Air Group, the parent company of both airlines, the flights signal an era when sustainable biofuels can provide a viable alternative to conventional fuel and enable airlines to reduce their environmental impact.

Two maiden biofuel-powered flights, one operated by a Boeing 737NG and the other by a Bombardier Q400, will leave Seattle on November 9 for Washington, D.C. and Portland, Oregon.

Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air will continue to operate select flights between Seattle and the two cities over the next few weeks using a 20 per cent blend of sustainable biofuel made from used cooking oil that meets rigorous international safety and sustainability standards.

Alaska Airlines' all-Boeing 737 fleet includes 737-900s like this one photographed flying over Seattle, as well as 737-800s, 737-700s and half-freighter, half-passenger 737-400 Combis. The airline uses its 737-400 Combis for flights within Alaska. Alaska Airlines has also ordered 13 737-900ERs, which offer enough longer range than the basic 737-900 to allow transcontinental flights such as Seattle-Orlando

“This is a historic week for U.S. aviation. The 75 flights that Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air will fly over the next few weeks reflect our longstanding commitment to environmental responsibility and our belief that sustainable biofuels are key to aviation’s future,” says  Bill Ayer, Alaska Air Group chairman and CEO.

Adds Ayer: “Commercial airplanes are equipped and ready for biofuels. They will enable us to fly cleaner, foster job growth in a new industry, and can insulate airlines from the volatile price swings of conventional fuel to help make air travel more economical. What we need is an adequate, affordable and sustainable supply. To the biofuels industry, we say: If you build it, we will buy it.”

Alaska Air Group says its fleet of Boeing 737s and Bombardier Q400s is one of the youngest and most fuel-efficient among U.S. domestic airlines. The group has also led the industry with a variety of environmental projects to fly greener — from pioneering satellite-based navigation procedures to onboard recycling.

However, industry leaders agree that biofuels represent a critical element in cutting aviation’s carbon footprint.

A pioneer operator of the Bombardier Q400, Horizon Air ― Alaska Airlines' sister airline in Alaska Air Group ― has had so much commercial success with the type that it has retired nearly all of its regional jets in favor of the high-capacity, fast turboprop type

“Aviation clearly needs a clean energy alternative to fossil fuels,” said Billy Glover, Boeing Commercial Airplanes’ vice president of environment and aviation policy. “In the U.S. and around the world, the industry is doing all it can to support sustainable biofuel development and maintain aviation’s role in global economic growth. To make that happen we must develop regional supply chains, and that takes supportive government policies that encourage investment in the early stages of this emerging sector.”

Alaska Air Group estimates the 20 per cent certified biofuel blend it is using for the 75 flights will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 10 per cent, or 134 metric tons, the equivalent of taking 26 cars off the road for a year.

The company says that if it powered all of its flights with a 20 per cent biofuel blend for one year, the annual emissions savings would represent the equivalent of taking nearly 64,000 cars off the road or providing electricity to 28,000 homes.

“Tomorrow’s fuels are ready to be used in today’s airplanes and that’s an important step forward,” says Philippe Poutissou, vice president of marketing for Bombardier Commercial Aircraft. “Our industry already designs aircraft that reduce the environmental footprint. We continue to strive for sustainable solutions and greener skies.”

Alaska Airlines boasts a number of specially theme-painted aircraft in its all-Boeing 737 fleet. This one, painted to mark Alaska's commercial cooperation with Disneyland, is called 'The Spirit of Disneyland II'. The airline decided to fit Aircell's Gogo Inflight Internet Wi-Fi equipment on all of its aircraft, despite conducting trials successfully with rival in-flight Wi-Fi service Row 44

The fuel was supplied by SkyNRG, an aviation biofuels broker, and made by Dynamic Fuels, a producer of next-generation renewable, synthetic fuels made from used cooking oil. The synthetic high-performance airliner fuel made by Dynamic Fuels – a $170 million joint-venture between Tyson Foods Inc.and Syntroleum Corp. – meets aviation and military safety, sustainability and performance standards.

“Advanced biofuels can be an economic driver in creating good jobs and a vital part of America’s long-term energy security,” says Bob Ames, Tyson Foods’ vice president of renewable energy and a member of the Dynamic Fuels management committee. “However, government policies supporting development are essential to ensure that the aviation biofuels industry reaches its full potential and is able to compete against foreign petroleum.”

Alaska Air Group’s commercial biofuel flights come six months after the company partnered in a strategic initiative called Sustainable Aviation Fuels Northwest (SAFN), a 10-month regional stakeholder effort to explore the feasibility, challenges and opportunities for creating an aviation biofuels industry in the U.S. Pacific Northwest.

The study determined that the region has the diverse stocks for biofuels, the delivery infrastructure and the political will needed to create a viable biofuels industry. There currently is no supply of aviation biofuels in the Pacific Northwest.