Yesterday, American Airlines completed the world’s first commercial biofuel flight by traveling from Houston to Chicago powered by a mix of 40% Solazyme algae biofuels and 60% traditional jet fuels. Tomorrow, Alaska Airlines will attempt a similar feat, flying 75 planes with a 20% cooking oil biofuel blend. The flights are impressive, but more surprising is the news that they’ve become something of an industry scandal – insiders claim that American Airlines heard of Alaska’s plans and rushed to beat them in becoming the first airline to go green with biofuels. So what is the real impact of these flights?

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The flights themselves have a rather small impact. One flight with 40% biofuel has a very negligible effect on the environment, but the 75 flights on Alaska will offset the emissions of 26 cars for a year. That’s still not much, but imagine what an entire airline or industry using biofuels and solar hybrid technologies could mean.

At the moment, airplanes flying long distances have an easier time using alternative fuels than electric propulsion technologies, so the development and use of biofuels is a step in the right direction. That is of course is these airlines stick with it and don’t just use these flights as a publicity stunt — which is what many are currently accusing them of. Time will tell.

Alaska Airlines’ flights are tomorrow, and we’ll keep you up to date on future biofuel developments in the airline industry.

+ American Airlines

+ Alaska Airlines

Via Treehugger

Photos courtesy of Flickr users contri and Alaskan Dude