And Finally

Frequent fryers

China Eastern makes maiden flight using recycled cooking oil

A real Spring Airlines stewardess

Spring Airlines has been surprising some of its passengers. On randomly selected flights, cabin crew have been instructed not to wear their usual uniforms. Instead the men dress as English butlers, and the ladies as French maids. The stewardesses’ lacy black-and-white outfits seem to have been a particular hit.

The Shanghai-based carrier says the oo-la-la gimmick has helped lure new passengers, describing the practice as “themed” flying.

“The clothes are designed according to young peoples’ tastes and they are prettier than the normal flight attendant uniforms,” Spring Airlines spokesperson Zhang Wuan told the China Daily. “We have called them maidservant clothes because we want to emphasise serving customers.”

All in all then, a spanking success…

Rival airline China Eastern grabbed headlines last week as well, although for more highbrow reasons. That was after it flew an Airbus A320 fuelled with oil recycled from Chinese kitchens. The test flight lasted 85 minutes and consumed 1.7 tonnes of bio-jet fuel made by Sinopec. The Economic Herald commented that the trial makes China “one of the few countries to master the independent research and development of bio-jet fuel.”

The news roused wide comment on the internet. As WiC has pointed out before, Chinese restaurants produce vast amounts of waste oil. But what to do with it has been a longstanding problem. Often it’s just poured away, and worse that oil is sometimes later dredged from drains and resold to restaurants for re-use (the ghastly product is known as ‘gutter oil’, see WiC140).

China Eastern’s flight raises the welcome prospect that more of this waste product will be used to fly people around, rather than become gutter oil. It might also help with the country’s energy security. China consumes almost 20 million tonnes of aviation fuel annually and that number is forecast to double by 2020.

But the journey from frying to flying is not going to be a quick one, predicts CBN, as there are a few challenges to solve. One, waste oil costs twice as much as conventional aviation fuel. Two, production capacity remains small. Sinopec can only make 6,000 tonnes a year at the moment – a tiny fraction of the 40 million tonnes of fuel expected to be required by 2020.

To increase supply there will also have to be a big increase in recycling capacity. Catering enterprises in the city of Qingdao, for example, produce 400 tonnes of waste oil daily. The six firms involved in recycling it only capture 30% of this volume.

But if these issues can be resolved – especially the pricing – China’s aircraft fleet could end up flying on much greener fuel.


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