Airline flies jumbo jet powered by biofuel

Virgin Atlantic has carried out the world's first flight of a commercial aircraft powered partly by biofuel.

Feat is hailed as progress in reducing carbon dioxide emissions

Virgin Atlantic has carried out the world's first flight of a commercial aircraft powered partly by biofuel.

The Boeing 747 flew on Sunday from London's Heathrow Airport to Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport, with one of its four engines using a mixture of coconut oil and babassu oil.

Had the engine failed, others would have been capable of getting the plane to its destination, the British airline said.

One concern was that the fuel might freeze, but mid-flight, captain Geoff Andreason reported via satellite telephone that all was well, and he went on to complete the journey.

Critics have said that cultivating crops to make biofuel is not sustainable and will lead to reduced land for food production. Biofuels are typically produced from plant oils and, ideally, have a lower carbon footprint than fossil fuels.

The chief scientist of the environmental group Greenpeace, Doug Parr, called the 747 flight "high-altitude greenwash" and said even producing organic oils to make biofuel could lead to deforestation and massive greenhouse gas emissions.

Virgin Atlantic spokesman Paul Charles said the flight demonstrated that, by using a substitute for conventional jet fuels, it's possible to produce less of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.

"Some of us in the industry are actually doing something about reducing our carbon emissions. I don't think that's a gimmick. It's progress," he said.
 
Charles said it would take weeks to analyze the data from Sunday's flight.

Richard Branson, the airline's president, said his company worked with Boeing, GE Aviation and Imperium Renewables for the past year to "prove that biofuels can be used at 30,000 feet [9,140 metres] without freezing."

With files from the Associated Press