Vail Valley Jet Center introduces sustainable fuel
‘Bio-fuel’ claims big emission reductions
The Vail Valley Jet Center Wednesday pumped a gallon of jet fuel that may be part of transportation’s future.
Coming out of the pump of a Signature Aviation fuel truck was the first bit of “sustainable” jet fuel. That fuel mixes regular jet fuel — a form of kerosene — with fuel from sustainable sources. In this case, the “bio” part of this fuel comes from animal tallow. The fuel is similar to “bio-diesel” fuel for ground transportation.
Eagle County Aviation Coordinator David Reid said having the fuel available at the Jet Center — which serves the private aircraft using the airport — is a big deal.
The mix, with 30% bio-fuel, claims to reduce private jet greenhouse gas emissions by 25% over straight jet fuel. That aligns with the county’s climate goals, Reid said.
And, Reid added, introducing bio-fuels to private aircraft is one step along the road to making the fuel available to commercial aircraft.
New owners, new fuel
Signature Aviation, which closed in December on the purchase of the Jet Center, already offers the fuel option at 12 of its airport locations around the country. Jet Center General Manager Paul Gordon said sustainable fuel production in 2021 was about 70 million gallons. Signature Aviation pumped about 6 million gallons of that fuel. That production is expected to rise this year to perhaps 600 million gallons.
The boost in production comes with some price advantages, too. During a Wednesday presentation, Gordon said that the sustainable fuel was roughly triple the cost of regular jet fuel as recently as 2019. The current price difference is between $1 and $1.50 per gallon, a 10% to 15% boost, a more palatable price difference.
And, Gordon added, sustainable fuel can co-mingle with conventional fuel, which means a company can pour a half-tank of sustainable fuel into a half-tank of conventional fuel.
And, he added, it’s only a matter of time before commercial carriers start using sustainable and other fuels.
Gordon said United Airlines is already mixing sustainable fuels in its conventional fuel supplies. And, he added that European aircraft giant AirBus is planning to shift its production exclusively to hydrogen-powered aircraft by 2035.
There’s also work being done with electric-powered aircraft. But, Gordon said, current technology currently limits electric aircraft only to short hops such as Eagle County to Denver.
But, Gordon said, the sustainable fuel at this point is at the top of the petroleum alternatives.
“This really is the holy grail,” he said.
‘Leading the country
Eagle County Commissioner Jeanne McQueeney was at the Wednesday presentation. McQueeney said she’s “very happy” to see the move toward more sustainable general aviation.
“This is leading the country,” she said, adding that since Signature Aviation is new to the Eagle County Regional Airport, “This is a great way to get to know them.”
Signature Aviation is part of the International Business Aviation Council, which represents private jet operators. That group has pledged to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 2050 to 50% of emissions in 2005. Gordon noted that business aviation currently contributes .04% of current global greenhouse gas emissions.
That emission reduction drive comes even as the industry continues to grow.
Gordon noted that the first commercial aircraft flew in 1914. Today, there are 115,000 commercial flights per day. Keeping those emissions down will require a lot of work, and efforts including biofuels for aircraft, as well as using biofuels and electricity for ground vehicles.
Gordon started with the Jet Center in the 1990s fueling airplanes. He’s excited about the present, and the future that sustainable fuels represent.
This is going to be huge in general aviation,” he said.
A Cessna Mustang, one of the most fuel-efficient private jets, burns about 95 gallons of fuel per hour. A flight from Eagle County to Los Angeles takes roughly 200 gallons.
Testing has found that sustainable aviation fuel doesn’t affect aircraft performance, including fuel use.
Sustainable aviation fuel can be used in both fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters.
Sustainable aviation fuel has reduced carbon dioxide emissions across its life cycle, from the field to the air.