Qatar Airways Flies World’s 1st Natural Gas-Fueled Plane
By Do Je-hae
Qatar Airways has successfully completed the world's first commercial flight powered by fuel made from natural gas, potentially creating a new source of aircraft fuel with less dependency on oil-based kerosene.
The carrier's flight from London Gatwick to the Qatari capital of Doha, Monday, was operated with an Airbus A340-600 using a 50-50 combination of jet fuel made through a ``Gas-to-Liquids'' (GTL) process, developed by Royal Dutch Shell PLC, and regular kerosene.
``The milestone flight is the first step in making this alternative fuel available to airlines,'' Qatar Airways Chief Executive Akbar Al Baker said. The airline has worked with Airbus, engine maker Rolls-Royce, Shell and state-owned Qatar Petroleum to develop the fuel blend. ``By 2030, about 30 percent of all jet fuel is expected to be replaced with eco-friendly fuels like those processed through the GTL system.''
Industry officials see the fuel mixture as the right direction, particularly given the environmental benefits. Alternative fuels are also expected to play a role in lessening carriers' dependency on fluctuating oil prices.
High production costs, however, are likely to prevent it from mounting an immediate challenge to existing jet fuels.
The jet fuel project opens a potential new market Qatar, home to more than 14 percent of the world's natural gas reserves.
Qatar is hoping to become the top producer of liquid kerosene made from natural gas by 2012. ``Qatar's position as the GTL capital of the world has been further enhanced with Qatar Airways' achievement,'' Abdulla bin Hamad al-Attiyah, the country's deputy prime minister of energy and industry, said in a statement.
On 1 February 2008, Qatar Airlines operated an Airbus A380 from Filton, England to Toulouse, France, with GTL-based fuel for a trial run.
Several airlines have tested the use of alternative fuels. Boeing has collaborated with Air New Zealand and Virgin Atlantic to experiment with biofuels made from different vegetable oils.