SINGAPORE, June 1 — Malaysia Airlines (MAS) will be operating its first passenger flights between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore using sustainable aviation fuel on Sunday (June 5).

In a press release on Monday, MAS announced that the flights will be operated on the Boeing 737-800 aircraft, using approximately 38 per cent sustainable fuel, made from renewable waste and residue raw materials such as cooking oil.

Flight MH603 to Singapore is scheduled to depart from Kuala Lumpur at 12.25pm. Flight MH606 will depart from Singapore back to Kuala Lumpur at 3.40pm.

“These flights reaffirm the national airline’s commitment to a sustainable tomorrow and mark significant progress towards achieving a cleaner, more viable fuel source for regular flights by 2025,” said the airline, adding that passengers can enjoy discounts up to 15 per cent when booking the sustainable fuel-powered flights.

TODAY’s check on MAS’ website found that economy class tickets were already sold out. A business class flight to Singapore costs RM1,922, with the flight back to Kuala Lumpur priced from RM2,005.

Sustainable fuel taking off but not soaring high: experts

Sustainable aviation fuel is a form of fuel made from various feedstock or sources, including waste oil and fats, green and municipal waste and non-food crops. It can also be produced synthetically via a process that captures carbon directly from the air, said the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

Such fuel can reduce lifecycle emissions by up to 80 per cent compared to its conventional counterpart.

Industry experts whom TODAY spoke to said that sustainable fuel is currently the “only game in town” in terms of powering flights in a green manner, with other technologies like hydrogen and battery power needing a much longer runway before they can be adopted.

However, the limited supply and high prices of sustainable fuel are hampering a wider adoption.

“Typically, the airlines that are using sustainable aviation fuel would be using a blend (with conventional fuel) — they use a certain proportion of sustainable fuel on specific flight sectors,” said Greg Waldron, Asia managing editor at FlightGlobal.

A Bloomberg report in November 2021 estimated production of sustainable fuel to be less than 0.1 per cent of global jet fuel consumption.

Meanwhile, IATA in February said that production can be expected to hit 7.9 billion litres, or 2 per cent of overall fuel requirement, by 2025 with “appropriate government policy support”, reported CNBC.

In terms of prices, independent aviation advisor Priveen Raj Naidu estimates that sustainable fuel is two to five times more costly than traditional jet fuel.

Factors driving up costs of production for this green fuel include lack of government subsidy and availability of feedstock, said oil refining company Neste. The average worldwide price of jet fuel is about US$4.15 (RM18) per gallon, according to the IATA. Meanwhile, a gallon of sustainable aviation fuel costs about S$8.67, said GlobalAir.

The continuing development of production technologies also adds to the costs, said Andreea Moyes, sustainability director at Air bp, one of the world’s largest aviation suppliers.

“As the technology matures it will become more efficient and so the expectation is that it will become less costly for customers,” said Moyes.

As the global aviation sector continues to lick its wounds inflicted by the Covid-19 pandemic, it inadvertently sets back sustainability efforts, the experts noted.

“Emphasis now is to ramp up flights, sell as many seats and fly as frequently as possible. Sustainable fuel has been put on the back burner,” said aviation analyst Shukor Yusof of Endau Analytics.

Sustaining efforts for sustainable fuel

A concerted effort spearheaded by governments is needed to push sustainable fuel in the aviation industry, said the experts.

“It’s going to require a lot of infrastructure, it’s going to require a lot of investment, it’s going to really require a lot of government support, because the airlines simply don’t have the money to finance that kind of infrastructure,” said Waldron.

“Governments and stakeholders must figure out a way to meet demand that will make economical sense to airlines, given that most airlines are just starting to crawl out from the Covid hits,” said Priveen.

In April, Singapore launched an agreement with New Zealand to collaborate on efforts to advance sustainability in the aviation industry. The efforts include studying the commercial viability of setting up “green lanes” between both countries to encourage consumers to take up flights which run on sustainable fuel.

All Singapore Airlines and Scoot flights will use blended sustainable fuel from the third quarter of this year, as part of a one-year pilot programme that is expected to reduce about 2,500 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, the airline group announced in February.

As green aviation technologies develop, meanwhile, Waldron said airlines are continuously upping their fuel efficiency game by optimising flight paths and favouring younger fleets of aircraft — measures that will not only be better for the environment, but also for their own bottom line. — TODAY