Thomson Airways' test biofuels flight has been blasted as a "hollow PR stunt" that paves the way for rainforest destruction, campaign group Friends of the Earth warned today after the company launched the first UK commercial flight run on biofuels.
had originally planned to launch a series of test flights
in July running on used cooking oil
, but the company was unable to source enough fuel in time and had to postpone. Friends of the Earth
says it would take the average person about a hundred years to save up enough chip fat to fly from Birmingham to Lanzarote on a one-way flight.
Thomson will now use include virgin plant oil from the US and babassu nuts from Brazil. Both are very short in supply, and the charity is concerned the company will use unsustainable alternatives when it launches daily biofuel flights next year.
Thomson's parent company TUI is already looking into soya and palm oil for its Thomson Airways fleet – and these are known drivers of rainforest deforestation.
Research has shown that biofuels from crops could be causing more climate-changing emissions than they save. Friends of the Earth is calling on the Government to halt airport expansion and develop greener alternatives to flying such as better rail services to replace short-haul flights.
Friends of the Earth's biofuels campaigner Kenneth Richter said: "Biofuels won't make flying any greener – their production is wrecking rainforests, pushing up food prices and causing yet more climate-changing emissions.
"It's not surprising Thomson couldn't find enough used cooking oil to fly to Lanzarote – it would take about a hundred years for each passenger to save up enough chip fat.
"The Government must curb future demand for flights by halting airport expansion, promoting video conferencing, and developing faster, better and affordable rail services."
And other aviation and biofuel campaigners have lined up to condemn today's flight.
Sarah Clayton from AirportWatch said: "Thomson Airways are using spurious claims about the merits of 'sustainable biofuels' to try and get the Government to grant yet more financial support and preferential treatment for the aviation
"There is nothing sustainable about competing with other biofuel markets for the obviously limited supplies of used cooking oil and tallow. This merely means that others, finding increased competition for supplies, will then simply use more palm and soya oil instead, thus causing more forests to be destroyed. And there is nothing sustainable about worsening existing land conflicts in Brazil so that companies like Thomson can keep expanding."
Rob Palgrave from Biofuelwatch added: "The word 'sustainability' has been used by virtually every sector and every company investing in all types of biofuels, regardless of the effects on people, climate and the environment.
"Thomson Airways are pushing for more Government support for biofuel just weeks after a report published by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation has confirmed the major role which biofuels are playing in food price rises and thus the growing number of people going hungry worldwide and called for an end to biofuel support across Europe and North America."
Chris Browne, Thomson Airways managing director, refused to be drawn into the controversy, and said: "This is a very exciting day for Thomson Airways and a further step in our commitment to invest in sustainable aviation biofuel.
"We firmly believe the adoption of sustainable biofuels by airlines will help achieve the Government’s carbon budget which commits the UK to reduce its carbon emissions by 50 per cent by 2025. Most strikingly, sustainable biofuel has the potential to reduce aviation emissions by up to 80 per cent in the long term."
The sustainable biofuel used by Thomson Airways is supplied by Dutch-based company SkyNRG, who is advised by an independent Sustainability Board consisting of two leading NGOs and a leading Government scientific institute. Platinum Fuels have been chosen as the fuel handler to fuel the aircraft.
Aviation Minister Theresa Villiers added: "I very much welcome Thomson Airways' announcement and wish them well with this project. The Government believes that sustainable biofuels have a role to play in efforts to tackle climate change, particularly in sectors where no other viable low carbon energy source has been identified – as is the case with aviation.
"We want aviation to flourish and grow but we have also been clear that the environmental impacts of flying must be addressed. I welcome the efforts being made by the UK aviation and aerospace industries to drive forward the technological change we need to tackle this challenge effectively."
Following the first UK commercial sustainable biofuels flight, there will then be a short gap before the daily operations start from early 2012 for approximately six weeks. Birmingham Airport is supporting the sustainable biofuel operation through the provision of a dedicated fuel truck, independent technical oversight and storage infrastructure.
As sustainable biofuels become more commercially viable, Thomson Airways plans to expand its use of sustainable biofuels across its fleet.
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