Kenya national carrier KQ is the first African airline to use sustainable aviation fuel provided by Italian multinational energy company Eni for a long-haul flight.
A joint statement released on Thursday, May 25 by KQ and Eni said the SAF [sustainable aviation fuel]-fuelled Nairobi-Amsterdam flight allows KQ to gain a competitive advantage in the continent.
“The Boeing 787-800 (B787-8) Dreamliner, that took off today from Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport to Amsterdam Schipol, is the first Kenya Airways flight powered also by Eni Sustainable Mobility’s sustainable aviation fuel.
“For this flight, JetA1 fuel is mixed with Eni Biojet, produced in the Eni’s Livorno refinery by distilling the bio-components produced from the Gela biorefinery,” the statement explained.
Kenya Airways CEO Allan Kilavuka said working with Eni Sustainable Mobility to pilot the use of sustainable aviation fuel puts the airline on the first pathway to testing the use of SAF within Africa.
“The data and insights generated from the pilot flight will be valuable to inform policy decisions, regulatory frameworks, and industry best practices related to SAF. This will be a significant milestone for Kenya Airways and the broader African aviation industry,” Kilavuka said.
SAF is a biofuel used to power aircraft that has similar properties to conventional jet fuel but with a smaller carbon footprint. Depending on the feedstock and technologies used to produce it, SAF can reduce life cycle greenhouse gas emissions compared to conventional jet fuel.
The International Air Transport Association estimates that sustainable aviation fuel could contribute around 65 per cent of the reduction in emissions needed by aviation to reach net-zero in 2050 as the world battles climate change impacts.
KQ will also participate in the second edition of the Sustainable Flight Challenge, an initiative of SkyTeam, which is a friendly competition between SkyTeam member airlines.
The Sustainable Flight Challenge by SkyTeam was created to increase the speed of innovation in the form of embedded new practices in environmental sustainability in the airline industry through knowledge sharing.
The energy company said Eni Biojet contains 100 per cent biogenic feedstock and is suitable for use with up to 50 per cent of JetA1 fuel. For the maiden flight, it said, the fuel was mixed with conventional jet fuel by Kenya Airways in Nairobi.
Eni Sustainable Mobility CEO Stefano Ballista noted that the supply of Eni Biojet to Nairobi Airport is an important step for Eni Sustainable Mobility because it confirms the company can support airlines such as Kenya Airways in their path towards decarbonisation.
From 2025, all aircraft departing from European airports will be required to incorporate a proportion of SAF.
“As a result, KQ is positioning itself to take advantage of sustainable aviation fuel momentum in accordance with the direction indicated by the European Union with the ReFuelEU Aviation regulation that sets the targets for mixing traditional fuels with increased amounts of more sustainable fuels. Eni already markets an aviation fuel containing a 20% biogenic component, JetA1+Eni Biojet,” the statement said.
In its sustainability strategy, KQ has committed to among other interventions use two percent SAF fuel on the aircraft to reduce the carbon footprint.
Eni has also signed agreements with national and international airlines as well as airports and logistics operators to supply it.
As of 2024, the Venice and Gela biorefineries will begin production of Eni Biojet from renewable raw materials and is expected to exceed 200,000 tonnes per year.
However, the sustainable aviation fuel has raised some concerns from some quarters, with Boeing boss Dave Calhoun this week warning that new climate-friendly biofuels will “never achieve the price of jet fuel”, pouring cold water on a central pillar of the aviation sector’s strategy to slash emissions.
SAF currently account for less than 1 per cent of global aviation consumption and trades for at least twice the price of traditional jet fuel.
“We will create scale and get more economic … But no, I don’t think we will ever achieve the price of Jet A. I don’t think that will ever happen. It is more positive and it will have an impact, but it’s gonna be what it’s gonna be,” Calhoun was quoted by the Financial Times as saying on May 23.
This echoes concerns raised privately in the sector about the difficulties — and expense — involved in decarbonising the aviation industry.