In South Korea, national air carrier Korean Air has announced that it has partnered with compatriot GS Caltex, a globally-recognized Korean energy and chemical company, to conduct test flights using sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). The test flights using SAF will be analyzed and the results will be used by the Korean government to establish SAF quality standards and accelerate commercialization.
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The two companies signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to cooperate on a series of test flights using SAF. This agreement is aligned with the Korean Government’s initiative to boost the supply of eco-friendly biofuels.
Both Korean Air and GS Caltex will proactively participate in the government project hosted by the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy (MOTIE) and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport (MOLIT).
The Korea Petroleum Quality and Distribution Authority and the Incheon International Airport Corporation will also participate in this project.
Korean Air will use SAF supplied by GS Caltex on select international flights departing from Seoul Incheon. The airline will use SAF that satisfies international standards on quality, including American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) standards.
The test flights will take place for six months starting in the second half of 2023, and the government plans to establish SAF implementation guidelines for domestic use based on the results of the flights. The research will assist in setting SAF quality standards prior to full-scale domestic production.
SAF is expected to play a key role in substantially reducing carbon emissions from aircraft operations. Unlike nonrenewable fossil fuels, SAF is manufactured from eco-friendly and/or recycled materials such as animal and vegetable oils, algae, and solid waste, and can reduce carbon emissions by up to 80 percent compared to traditional fossil jet fuel.
SAF usage is on the rise, and the EU is mandating airlines refueling in its territory to use a minimum of 2 percent SAF blend from 2025. Many countries including the United States are introducing a variety of policies to expand SAF production through incentives such as tax deductions.
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has also led states to adopt and commit to the goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 for international flight operations.
Korean Air tested SAF for the first time in November 2017 between Seoul Incheon Airport (ICN) and Chicago O’Hare Airport (ORD) in the United States (US), and has been using SAF on its Paris, France – Seoul Incheon route since last year.
Korean Air has also signed an agreement with global energy company Shell to purchase SAF from Shell at major airports in the Asia Pacific and the Middle East for five years starting in 2026.
The airline’s increase in SAF usage is part of its proactive efforts to reduce carbon emissions to help tackle climate change, and further strengthen its environmental, social, and governance (ESG) management for governance transparency.
SAF is crucial in reducing carbon emissions in the aviation sector but is easily influenced by various factors such as domestic and international policies, regulations, and demand and supply. The cooperative effort with GS Caltex will vitalize the Korean domestic SAF market, and will serve as stepstones for the Korean government’s decarbonization policies, said Seong Bae Cho, SVP of Procurement at Korean Air.