Porter lands first biofuel flight in Ottawa

Courtney Symons
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Canada's first biofuel-powered commercial flight landed in the Ottawa International Airport on Tuesday morning after departing from Toronto.

Porter Airlines president and CEO Robert Deluce. (Submitted photo)

Porter Airlines flew one of its Bombardier Q400 turboprop airliners for the flight that used a 50/50 blend of biofuel and jet fuel.

"This is a call to action," said Porter CEO Robert Deluce in an interview Tuesday. "It shows that such flight is possible."

Porter announced its intention to attempt a biofuel-powered flight 18 months ago, Mr. Deluce said, and made it a reality by teaming up with Bombardier Aerospace, Pratt & Whitney Canada, Targeted Growth Inc. and Honeywell UOP. The project also received funding through the Green Aviation Research and Development Network.

The next step, Mr. Deluce said, is for companies to produce large enough quantities of biofuel, and at affordable enough prices, to make it a viable option for the aviation industry.

The biofuel used by Porter is derived from the oilseed crop called Camelina sativa, a member of the flowering plant family including broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower.

Biofuel currently costs between five to 10 times more than regular fuel, said Stephen Colavincenzo, Bombardier's lead of biofuel products.

However, the price could come down if dedicated production facilities are constructed, creating economies of scale, he added.

"(Biofuel) is a good investment," he said. "But we still need to prove the business case is there."

The International Air Transport Association, a global aviation industry group, has set a goal of neutralizing its carbon growth by 2020 and reducing its net carbon emissions by 50 per cent by 2050, Mr. Colavincenzo said.

But before that, a large user such as the Canadian Air Force must embrace the alternative fuel to raise its profile and encourage greater production, he added.

As for Tuesday morning's flight from Toronto to Ottawa, Mr. Deluce said it went smoothly.

"Before we it knew it, we were landing," he said. "It wasn't any different than a regular flight."

Despite rising fuel costs and increased competition putting pressure on fares on the busy Toronto-Ottawa route, Mr. Deluce said privately held Porter recorded its first profitable year in 2011, and expects to stay in the black this year.

Porter laid the groundwork for an initial public offering in 2010, but the company decided to shelve its plans.

"Our short-term financial goals are all in place," Mr. Deluce said, adding that he wouldn't rule out an IPO in the distant future if the market gains stability.

The airline launched in 2006 and just added four daily Washington, D.C. flights to its repertoire of short-haul flights within Canada and the United States.

"I suspect there will be other new destinations announced later on in 2012," Mr. Deluce said.

Organizations: Bombardier Aerospace, Targeted Growth, International Air Transport Association Canadian Air Force

Geographic location: Ottawa, Toronto, Washington, D.C. Canada United States

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