Sustainable Fuel (And What it Could Mean for Flight Training)

With fuel prices in Europe exceeding $10 per gallon and little signs of slowing it is time to think about sustainable fuel sources and the long term impact they could have on flight training. If we (the industry) can change the way we use fuel, could we scale back the major expense of flight training, making it more cost-effective for prospective students while simultaneously increasing marginal revenue? Let’s explore.

The impact of fuel on flight training costs isn’t nominal. The latest cost of avgas is around $7/gallon and, as I mentioned, over in Europe it's up to the equivalent of about $10 USD. Just today I heard an announcement by Signature Aviation here in Bedford, MA that they'd be raisingprices to $8.80 and that's the norm, not the outlier.

Fuel comprises a huge portion of the costs involved with flight training. If we can change the fuel source we rely upon we'll have the ability to restructure the hourly costs (and marginal revenue) of an hour of flight training.

The Diesel Option

Presently, diesel is one of the only realistic options. It is a readily available and a familiar source of fuel. Many across the pond in aviation have already adopted it as an alternative to avgas,  according to Flying Magazine. While we wait for a long-term solution, diesel remains the superior option and is becoming a mainstream solution as diesel engine technology continues to improve.

Turning to Sustainable Energy

While the perfect alternative energy option has not yet been found, there are plenty of top companies experimenting with new technology.  If successful, cutting the cost of aviation fuel and finding a more sustainable option could become a true reality.

Consider these options:

Hybrids

Pipistrel’s Panthera Hybrid is currently in the concept stage and has been designed to be available with either an electric motor, hybrid propulsion or petrol engine. By the end of 2014 Pipistrel expects to release the first experimental aircraft for testing.

Internal Combustion Engines

We haven’t seen it in aviation yet but a group of Japan’s largest car manufacturers recently announced an alliance to create the Research Association of Automotive Internal Combustion Engines. The goal of this team is to improve fuel efficiency levels by 30% for petrol and diesel engines by 2020.

While still in the concept stage, NASA has begun testing electric powered planes with internal combustion engines hoping to cut down on fuel costs, noise, and emissions. The plane would use battery power for take-off and landing and the internal combustion engine for the duration of the flight. Initial results appear promising, and the plane is promised to “work like a Prius” but there’s still extensive research to be done before these hit the general aviation market.

Solar Power

And don’t forget about the already successful attempts at solar powered flights. The Solar Impulse 2 made its first experimental flight on June 2nd of this year. This aircraft has the ability to fly without fuel day and night and is preparing for a voyage around the globe in 2015.  

There are many opportunities on the horizon but until the pace of technology changes, only the strides made with diesel are available to todays consumer. Evens so, it’s only a matter of time before other options take off and change how we fuel, and fly, our aircraft.