British Airways plans a series of tests on alternative fuels and has invitied biofuel producers to supply 60,000 litres of their products for the programme.


The airline is the latest to announce trials of alternatives to kerosene after Virgin Atlantic became the first carrier to operate a flight using a biofuel in February.


BA said it would select four fuels for testing before conducting the trial early next year. However, unlike Virgin Atlantic, BA will do its testing on the ground in the Rolls Royce engine of a Boeing 747.


Chief executive Willie Walsh told staff: “Trialling the engine in a Rolls Royce test bed is more effective than testing on an actual flight. Data from the trial can be accurately recorded and tested in a controlled environment and is more valuable for research and development.”


Announcing the trial in BA staff newspaper British Airways News, BA resisted referring to the fuels as “bio” following criticism that a rush to produce the first generation of biofuels – largely ethanol – have pushed up world food prices. The airline insisted: “An essential requirement is that [the alternative] fuel must not impact on land, water or food.”


Airlines are increasingly keen to find an alternative to kerosene produced from oil because of the high price and pressure to control carbon-dioxide emissions.


However, the commercial use of alternative fuels remains some years away. The Virgin Atlantic trial involved use of a mix of 20% biofuel with 80% kerosene in one engine of a four-engine aircraft on a flight between London and Amsterdam.