Airlines need government support to lower the cost of biofuels that could help to reduce pollution and carbon emissions, the head of the global aviation industry group said Thursday.
Airlines have flown some 1,500 commercial flights using fuel made from plants, but supplies are limited and costly, said Tony Tyler, chief executive of the International Air Transport Association.
"We need governments to adopt policies to help support commercialization of biofuels to bring up the volume and bring down the price," Tyler said. He was in Beijing for IATA's annual general meeting, due to be held next week.
Airline emissions have become a contentious issue amid opposition by China, the United States, Russia and other governments to European Union carbon charges on carriers that took effect Jan. 1. China and India have ordered their airlines not to cooperate.
The EU has said it would reconsider its program if talks under way in the International Civil Aviation Organization, a U.N. body, produce a global agreement to regulate airline carbon emissions.
Airlines account for only 3 percent of total emissions of carbon that scientists say is changing the climate but aviation is the fastest-growing source.
Aircraft makers and energy companies have experimented with fuels made from jatropha, an oily nut; camelina, a flower with an oily stem; algae and other plants. Carriers in Europe, Asia, Australia and New Zealand have flown using varying mixtures.
Supporters say that unlike petroleum and other fossil fuels, burning biofuels adds little extra carbon to the environment because most of it already was present in the plants used to make the fuel.
Tyler cited estimates that biofuels could reduce aviation's "carbon footprint" by up to 80 percent.
"Already, today, we are a lot more advanced than we ever thought we would be," he said.
The latest fuels have received government approval and can be made from plants that do not compete with food crops for land and water, he said.
Commercializing use of biofuels by airlines should be easier than doing it for cars because getting supplies to the world's 3,800 airports would be simpler than getting biofuel to millions of filling stations, Tyler said.