Franco-Italian aircraft manufacturer ATR announced this week that it was gearing up toward operating the world’s first commercial aircraft flight powered by 100% sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). The flight, which is set to take place “soon,” will operate between two cities in Sweden, flown by the country’s largest regional carrier, Braathens Regional Airways, with fuel supplied by Neste.
Part of ongoing certification process
The flight will be operated by one of Braathens’ ATR 72-600, a twin-engine turboprop with 72 seats in a one-class configuration of which airline has 12. Its engines will be powered by neat biofuel. Traveling from Malmö (MMX) to Stockholm-Bromma (BMA), the demonstration flight will be part of advancing the aircraft type’s certification for operating on 100% SAF sometime in 2024 or 2025.
Braathens has previously operated test flights on a 50/50 fossil-fuel / biofuel blend. The initiative, which took place in 2019, enabled a reduction of up to 46% of the associated carbon dioxide emissions. Meanwhile, the collaboration between Braathens, Neste, and ATR has been in place since September 2021.
ATR hopes to certify its aircraft to fly on 100% SAF in two to three years. Photo: ATR / Chunlaud Melody
In February this year, ATR performed a series of ground and flight tests on its ATR 72-600 prototype aircraft, accumulating seven hours of operating on 100% SAF in one engine. The flights reportedly garnered positive feedback from flight crews and were successful from a systems standpoint. Stefano Bortoli, ATR’s Chief Executive Officer, said at the time,
“As the regional market leader, our aim is to lead the change to decarbonization. Already emitting 40% less CO2 than similarly-sized regional jets, ATR turboprops are the ideal platform to offer significant advances in the reduction of CO2 emissions. The achievement of this great milestone shows that we are fully committed to making the use of 100% SAF possible and helping our customers meeting their objectives to provide even more sustainable air links – not in 2035 or 2050 but in the coming years. ”
The race for 100% certification
Modern commercial aircraft are currently certified to operate on 50% SAF blends. Previous passenger demonstration flights, such as that of United Airlines’ Boeing 737 MAX between Chicago’s O’Hare to Washington’s Reagan National Airport in December last year, operated one engine on 100% SAF. However, the other was still powered by kerosene-based fuel.
The race for 100% SAF is one. Photo: Rolls-Royce
Meanwhile, other engine makers and aircraft manufacturers have also been operating their machines on pure biofuel in testing environments. Airbus has flown at least three aircraft types on 100% SAF, and Rolls-Royce has been testing its engines to do the same. The latter will even ground test its largest engine ever, the TurboFan, on 100% SAF later this year.
Sweden’s largest regional and most punctual airline
Braathens Regional Airlines is a Swedish domestic airline. Before the pandemic, it flew about two million annual passengers on 27 routes, with Stockholm Bromma as its main airport. It accounts for about 30% of Swedish domestic flights. It was one of the most punctual airlines in the world in 2019, with 93.2% of flights arriving on time.