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World’s First Gas-Powered Commercial Flight

October 13, 2009

Qatar Airways has completed the world’s first commercial passenger flight with an aircraft powered by fuel made from natural gas.

The historic trial flight took off from London’s Gatwick airport and completed its six-hour journey to Qatar Monday evening.  It was operated with an Airbus A340-600 aircraft using Rolls-Royce Trent 556 engines.

The state-owned Qatar airlines said it plans to launch the gas-powered flights into commercial production in 2012.

Royal Dutch Shell developed and produced the 50-50 blend of synthetic Gas to Liquids (GTL) kerosene and conventional oil-based kerosene fuel known as GTL jet fuel, which was approved for civil aviation last month.

The fuel burns with lower sulphur dioxide and particulate emissions, which many hope will improve air quality at busy airports.

“Qatar Airways is proud to be associated with this consortium and to become the world’s first airline to use this new fuel technology on a commercial passenger flight,” said Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker, who was onboard the flight.

“This milestone flight is the first step in making this alternative fuel available to airlines. Qatar Airways looks forward to continuing to work with the consortium members to further develop this exciting project and commit towards a cleaner environment,” he said.

Qatar is one of the world’s  top exporters of liquefied natural gas (LNG), with natural gas reserves of 900 trillion cubic feet — the third largest in the world. 

“Today’s flight opens the door to an alternative to oil-based aviation fuel,” said Malcolm Brinded, Royal Dutch Shell’s executive director, in a statement issued late Monday.

“We are now well on the way to launching GTL on a world scale for the first time,” he said.

“This is a major breakthrough which brings us closer to a world where fuels made from feedstocks such as wood-chip waste and other biomass is available for commercial aviation,” said Airbus spokesman Rainer Ohler.

“Airbus predicts that in 2030, up to 30 percent of jet fuel will be alternative,” he said.

Qatar Petroleum and Shell are collaborating to construct the Pearl GTL plant, which will have the capacity to produce roughly 100 million tons of fuel per year, or enough to power 250 passengers around the world 4,000 times when used in a 50 percent blend of GTL jet fuel.

Qatar will become the world’s leading producer of GTL kerosene when the plant goes into commercial production in 2012.

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