Page last updated at 01:32 GMT, Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Airline tests tropical fruit fuel


The Air New Zealand biofuel aircraft makes its maiden flight

A passenger plane has completed a two-hour test flight partly powered by fuel derived from a tropical fruit.

Air New Zealand hailed the flight as a "milestone" in the development of sustainable fuels that could lower aeroplane emissions.

One engine of the Boeing 747-400 was fuelled by a 50-50 mixture of jatropha plant oil and standard A1 jet fuel.

A Virgin Atlantic test flight in February used fuel derived from a blend of Brazilian babassu nuts and coconuts.

In Auckland on Tuesday, a range of tests were completed both on the ground and during the flight, said Air New Zealand chief pilot David Morgan.

He said the oil from the plum-sized jatropha fruit performed "well through both the fuel system and engine".

Air New Zealand chief executive Rob Fyfe said the completion of Tuesday's flight was "a milestone for the airline and commercial aviation".

The International Air Transport Association says it wants a 10th of aviation fuel to come from biofuels by 2017.

Critics of biofuels are opposed to turning arable land over to the cultivation of biofuels at the expense of growing food.

However, the fruit from jatropha trees is toxic to humans and the plant can be grown in poor, marginal soils.

But questions have been raised about the plants' suitability as a biofuel because harvesting the fruit is labour intensive and the quality of the yield can be inconsistent.

Tuesday's flight was the first time the fuel had been used partly to power an aircraft, but the biodiesel has been used in cars and trains in Asia for a number of years.

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