Those of you who are familiar with our publication, Aviation Climate Solutions, might remember that we took a look at a particularly innovative alternative fuel project taking place in South Africa. Project Solaris, a partnership between South African Airways, Boeing and SkyNRG, has been producing sustainable alternative fuel by using nicotine-free tobacco. This tobacco, developed by Italian R&D company, Sunchem, also has a high level of seed and leaf production when compared to normal smoking tobacco, making it ideal for synthesizing alternative fuel.

Now, the first commercial flights using the new fuel have officially taken place, powering SAA and Mango Boeing 737-800 aircraft. This is a major milestone for all the partners involved and is the culmination of a comprehensive three-year trial. The aim is for half of all SAA aircraft to powered by the new fuel by 2023, with the long-term potential even higher.

The production of this fuel is a perfect fit for South African conditions. Not only does the use of sustainable alternative fuel have undoubted environmental benefits, drastically reducing the level of CO2 produced over the lifecycle of the fuel, but it also has significant social and economic benefits. With the demand for smoking tobacco falling, project Solaris enables tobacco farmers to continue to use their skills and experience, keeping in work and, as production is forecast to ramp up, employ many more people.

So, if you happen to be flying on an SAA on Mango flight in the future, the chances are that your flight will be powered by this pioneering alternative fuel.