India Successfully Tests its First Biofuel-Based Flight from Dehradun to Delhi

In India, where the overall economic growth is fueled by its agrarian sector, biofuels can have a great role in its economic development

August 28, 2018


The first biofuel-based flight in India successfully completed its journey from Dehradun to Delhi. India-based flight operator SpiceJet operated the test flight powered by biojet fuel, marking a new chapter in the fast-growing domestic aviation sector.

This is a welcome news for India’s beleaguered aviation sector in which domestic airlines are facing an existential crisis in face of increasing fuel prices. This is the first successful test, and it will take many more to mark a shift in the prevalent fuel trends.

Per a report by Press Trust of India (PTI) which quoted a Spicejet official, the nearly 45-minute flight from Dehradun to the national capital was operated with a Bombardier Q400 aircraft, partially powered by biojet fuel made from Jatropha plant. With the test flight, India has become one of the few countries and probably the first among the developing nations to use biofuel for flying planes.

According to PTI, the test flight carried 28 people, including five crew members. Among others, officials from aviation regulator DGCA, SpiceJet and the IIP were in the test flight, which was flagged off by Uttarakhand Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat at Dehradun.

The aircraft’s right engine was filled with 75 percent aviation turbine fuel (ATF) and 25 percent of biojet fuel. The fuel was prepared by the CSIR-Indian Institute of Petroleum (IIP), Dehradun. The institute’s Director Anjan Ray said around 330 kg of biojet fuel was made for the little over 40-minute flight, per the PTI report.

Biojet fuel is low cost and helps in significantly reducing carbon emissions. “It has the potential to reduce our dependence on traditional aviation fuel by up to 50 percent on every flight and bring down fares,” Ajay Singh said.

The biojet fuel has been recognized by American Standard Testing Method (ASTM) and meets the specification standards of Pratt & Whitney and Bombardier for commercial application in aircraft.

Noting that it was a “historic occasion” to operate the test flight, SpiceJet chairman and managing director Ajay Singh said India is the first among developing countries to fly flight powered by biojet fuel.

Per SpiceJet, the advantage of using biojet fuel as compared to ATF is that it reduces carbon emissions and enhances fuel efficiency. At a function to mark the successful operation of the test flight, Civil Aviation Minister Suresh Prabhu said efforts are on to have a consumer-friendly, affordable and environment-friendly aviation sector.

Road Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari added that the government plans to come out with a “special policy” for use of biofuel in the aviation sector.

Science and Technology Minister Harsh Vardhan also commented on this feat saying that biojet fuel is carbon neutral and that only “three to four nations are using biojet fuel”. He also emphasized that ways should be explored to scale up production of such fuels.

All the ministers opined that increased use of biofuels would also benefit farmers and also help in reducing oil import bill.

Mercom Analysis

In a country like India, where the overall economic growth is fueled by its agrarian sector, biofuels assume great significance in light of the country’s ambitious goals of doubling farmers’ income, import reduction, employment generation, and waste-to-wealth creation. Acknowledging the importance of abundant resources for biofuel in the country,  the union cabinet recently approved the National Policy on Biofuels 2018.

Aviation industry could generate demand of biofuels and encourage Indian farmers to indulge in cultivation of crops such as Jatropha. In an interview with Mercom, Charmaine Fernandes Sharma, the co-founder of Observing I had said, “It is not always incentives, but just the creation of a well-defined value chain that will attract entrepreneurial activity and investment in this sector.”