Air France-KLM flew a biofuel-powered Airbus A350 from Paris to Montreal on Tuesday, demonstrating the airline's readiness to adopt low-emissions fuel despite deep industry divisions over the pace of its adoption.
Air France flight 342 took off from Charles de Gaulle airport with a 16% mix of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) in its fuel tanks, produced in France by Total from used cooking oil.
The flight signalled a "shared ambition to decarbonize air transportation and to develop a SAF supply chain in France", the companies said in a joint statement with airport operator ADP .
Jet fuel produced from biomass or synthetically from renewable power has the potential to slash carbon emissions, albeit at a heavy cost by comparison to the price of kerosene.
Starting next year, flights departing from France will be required to use 1% SAF, ahead of European Union goals to reach 2% by 2025 and 5% by 2030 under the bloc's Green Deal policy.
But traditional network airlines have sought to exempt long-haul flights, arguing that a Europe-only SAF requirement could expose them to unfair foreign competition.
That has drawn an angry response from low-cost airlines including Ryanair, Wizz Air and easyJet , which wrote to the EU in March to demand that the rules apply to all flights originating in Europe.
Airlines have a "major responsibility" to cut emissions, Air France-KLM Chief Executive Ben Smith said on Tuesday - while reiterating doubts about European SAF quotas for long-haul.
"We have to be on a level playing field," Smith told Reuters. "We can't have a situation where airlines that are based outside Europe can undercut us, (and) that is a real concern."
Transport and Environment, a Brussels-based campaign group that signed the budget carriers' open letter, again rejected calls to exclude long-haul from biofuel rules.
Any such exemption would have "no logic", the group's aviation director Andrew Murphy said.
Green fuel used for the Paris-Montreal flight was produced by Total at its Oudalle plant near Le Havre as well as La Mede, a refinery in southern France converted to biofuels in 2019.