As the industry eyes a return to growth, part of the new normal will be a renewed emphasis on sustainability, Hobday said, adding that Rolls-Royce is tackling its environmental impact by focusing on three main pillars: more efficient engines, sustainable aviation fuel, and hybrid electric and alternative solutions.

As the aviation industry looks to return to the skies, ensuring that aircraft are fit to fly after being parked for an unprecedented amount of time is no easy task, according to Alastair Hobday, Fuel and Lubricants Specialist for Rolls-Royce.

“We’ve never had so many aircraft with our engines on the ground for so long,” Hobday said in an interview with aviation fuel expert Mike Farmery. “Returning those aircraft and engines safely to service is a big challenge.”

When the pandemic grounded thousands of planes worldwide, aviation fueling experts were faced with the possibility of widespread microbiological contamination of fuel, which can happen when water finds its way into fuel tanks and when the fuel stagnates for long periods of time, Hobday said. Microbial contamination can cause significant operational issues for aircraft and, in extreme cases, even require defueling of an aircraft, an expensive and complicated procedure.

Issues with one of the biocides used to treat fuel further complicated the situation, according to Hobday. With limited biocide options available, the team at Rolls-Royce worked closely with operators and customers to ensure they were closely following engine and airframe manuals to limit the amount of water in the aircraft.

“I think the positive message we are hearing now is that we’ve heard very few major problems in terms of safe service return,” said Hobday.

Now, the aviation industry faces a new challenge as it phases out the use of superabsorbent polymer (SAP), a key component in filter monitors in standard use across the industry to ensure fuel quality while refueling aircraft, due to ongoing safety concerns.

Under certain circumstances, SAP particles can escape the filter and enter the fuel. In rare cases, this can cause significant operational issues in engines. While the industry has agreed to stop using SAP-based filters, many airlines and operators have yet to begin the transition to new technologies, Hobday said.

“There’s a real urgency for the airlines to move away from this type of SAP technology as it does represent a safety risk,” said Hobday. “We, as engine manufacturers, have a zero-tolerance policy for superabsorbent polymer in fuel. So, fuel that is going into the aircraft that contains this polymeric material is not fit for purpose.”

One solution is new filtration technology from Shell Aviation that uses a sensor to detect minute amounts of water in fuel and then shuts off the flow into an aircraft.

As the industry eyes a return to growth, part of the new normal will be a renewed emphasis on sustainability, Hobday said, adding that Rolls-Royce is tackling its environmental impact by focusing on three main pillars.

“One is around more efficient engines, the other is around sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). The third is around hybrid electric and alternative solutions,” said Hobday. “But from a jet fuel perspective, certainly sustainable aviation fuel is a really important topic that’s occupying a lot of time in Rolls-Royce.”

Rolls-Royce recently carried out a successful test flight of a jet using 100% SAF in one of its engines. The test was an important milestone to demonstrate safe commercial use of SAF, which currently must be blended at a maximum 50% with conventional jet fuel.

Hobday said the test also demonstrated the kind of successful partnership between aircraft manufacturers, engine makers, fuel producers, and other stakeholders to help scale SAF as the industry seeks to mitigate the impact of its emissions.

“There’s no way that one individual company will fix this. There’s a massive challenge in terms of availability of product as we go out to 2050 in people’s net-zero targets,” said Hobday.

A Conversation with Alastair Hobday

Our Flightpath host, Mike Farmery, recently sat down with Alastair Hobday, Fuel and Lubricants Specialist for Rolls-Royce, to discuss challenges facing the world of jet fuel and emerging filtration technologies.

How Remote Inspections Are Changing The Game

Recently, our Flightpath host, Mike Farmery, sat down with Mark Boyd, Shell Aviation’s Compliance Lead for the Americas, to discuss how digital technology can enable remote inspections and lead to greater efficiency and safety. Keep reading for excerpts from their informative sit-down.

Using Technology to Drive Better Outcomes in Aviation

Airlines must innovate and become more efficient while safely supplying aviation fuel by addressing the next generation of processes and technologies in the aviation fuel industry. Shell Aviation’s Global Technical and Quality Manager Rob Midgley talks about several steps on how airlines can adopt technology in their operations to stay ahead of the competition.

Navigating the pathway to sustainable aviation

The aviation industry is on its way to returning to the skies, and part of that return must include reducing its emissions. The current options are limited and complex, but with urgent action and collaboration from multiple stakeholders and consumer demand for sustainable aviation still strong, significant reductions in aviation emissions are possible.

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