A takeoff for cleaner fuels


Finnair’s first biofuel flight aligns with Finnair Cargo’s increasingly green strategy.

On July 20, Finnair flew from Amsterdam to Helsinki with a mix of recycled cooking oil and ordinary aviation fuel, signifying the world’s longest commercial biofuel flight to date. Questions about biofuel production and costs remain a challenge for the airline industry, but the flight signified a notable step in cutting emissions from air travel and cargo.

“It’s important to for Finnair to lead the way and show that biofuels don’t have to just be something we talk about,” says Kati Ihamäki, Finnair’s vice president of sustainable development. The fuel mix has been developed by SkyNRG, a Dutch group of which KLM Airlines is also part, and complies by a recently approved international standard that restricts the component of biofuel to 50 per cent.

Changes in international legislation have put biofuels at the forefront of industry conversation; as part of the European Union climate policy, airlines will become part of the EU emissions trading scheme next year. As a result, they will have to either cut their carbon dioxide emissions to 97 per cent of levels recorded from 2004 to 2006 or purchase additional allowances. Moreover, both travellers and cargo customers are becoming more demanding about corporate responsibility.

An environmental agenda

“We’ve made green logistics a top priority for us,” says Pertti Mero, vice president of global sales at Finnair Cargo. “Our executive team has put environmental issues on its agenda, and we have a real desire to move this process forward. The road has not been fully paved yet, but questions of sustainability have risen so high on the priority list that we are making business decisions based on these issues.”

Because of limited supply, the mix used on Finnair’s first four biofuel flights doesn’t yet present a long-term solution. The next step for the airline is identifying a source for biofuel that produces it in large enough amounts and in ways that don’t disturb ecosystems or food production. In an ideal situation, the fuel would make use of Finnish industries. In addition, Finnair has to tackle the challenge of costs: biofuel is about twice as expensive as ordinary aviation fuel.

“Both consumers and companies have to ask themselves how much they are willing to pay for more environmentally sustainable solutions. Companies also have to make a case for them from a business standpoint," says Mero. “To bring forth green values and stick to our goals we have to invest more, and we have to make sure that we make the process as efficient as possible.”

In its operations, Finnair Cargo is also investing in green logistics by making more of its documentation processes paperless.

“We base our green logistics on customer needs, and lately the conversation has turned more to paperless documents,” Mero says. “Our aim for the future is to make our documentation processes fully electronic.”

Text by Laura Palotie
Photo by Finnair

Published August 25, 2011

Category: Environment, Finnair Cargo, Corporate Responsibility