Airbus helicopter flight brings sustainable aviation fuel ambition a step closer

Robert Stockdill

Robert Stockdill

Airbus / Thierry Rostang

Airbus has completed the first-ever flight by a helicopter fuelled entirely by 100 per cent sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). 

The flight this month by a twin-engine Airbus H225 (pictured above) follows an earlier trial last November when one of its Safran Makila 2 engines was SAF-powered, the other running on traditional fossil fuel. 

Stefan Thome, executive VP, engineering and chief technical officer at Airbus Helicopters, described the flight as “an important milestone for the helicopter industry”.

“The use of SAF is one of Airbus Helicopters’ levers to achieve its ambition of reducing CO2 emissions from its helicopters by 50 per cent by 2030. 

“It marks a new stage in our journey to certify the use of 100 per cent SAF in our helicopters, a fact that would mean a reduction of up to 90 per cent in CO2 emissions alone,” he said. 

The key to the fuel’s success would be allowing the aircraft to minimise its carbon footprint without compromising performance. 

The recently released Waypoint 2050 report by Aviation Benefits Beyond Borders, projects SAF could account for between 50 and 75 per cent of the CO2 reduction needed in order for the global air transport industry to reach net carbon emissions by 2050. Taking the middle point in that range – 65 per cent – would require an annual production capacity of 449 billion litres.

For now, SAF accounts for just 0.1 per cent of aviation fuel produced, but that percentage will rise quickly as operators adopt the fuels and governments begin to mandate their use. 

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has called for governments to introduce large-scale incentives to rapidly expand the use of SAFs as aviation pursues its commitment to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

IATA says investments are in place to expand the annual production of SAF from the current 125 million litres to 5 billion by 2025. If governments step in with effective incentives, production could reach 30 billion litres by 2030, which IATA describes as a tipping point for SAF production and adoption.

Meanwhile, this month’s test flight by Airbus Helicopters was aimed at gauging the impact of the new fuel on the aircraft’s systems. More tests will follow using other types of helicopters, with different fuel and engine architectures with Airbus aiming to certify the use of 100 per cent sustainable aviation fuel by 2030. 

All Airbus commercial aircraft and helicopters are already certified to fly with up to a 50 per cent blend of SAF. In June last year, Airbus Helicopters launched a SAF User Group in the hope of bringing stakeholders closer and accelerating the adoption of 100 per cent SAF flights for future fleets. 

Further reading: Airbus just flew an A380 using 100 per cent sustainable fuel

Robert Stockdill

Robert Stockdill

Robert Stockdill is a content writer with more than 30 years of experience in five countries. His style has built upon award-winning success in news and features in the print media to leadership in digital communication, spanning news websites, social media, magazines, brochures, and contributing to books. Recognising the devastating impact of consumer behaviour on the planet and wanting to help make a difference Robert launched Viable.Earth as a platform to celebrate positive contributions by brands, companies and individuals towards reducing environmental impact and improve sustainability – especially in the fields of fashion, beauty, food, lifestyle, and transportation.