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Page last updated at 01:32 GMT, Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Vegetable oil tested on NZ flight

Test Pilot Captain Keith Pattie (R), Air New Zealand Chief Executive Rob Fyfe (C) and Chief Pilot Captain David Morgan (L) in front of the partly biofuel-powered Boeing 747 in Auckland, New Zealand, 30 December 2008
Rob Fyfe (C) described the flight as a milestone for aviation

A passenger plane has successfully completed a two-hour test flight partly powered by vegetable oil.

Air New Zealand hailed the flight as a "milestone" in the development of sustainable fuels that could lower aeroplane emissions and cut costs.

One engine of the Boeing 747-400 was fueled by a 50-50 mixture of jatropha plant oil and standard A1 jet fuel.

A Virgin Atlantic test flight in February used fuel derived from a blend of Brazilian babassu nuts and coconuts.

In Auckland on Tuesday, a range of tests were completed both on the ground and during the flight, said Air New Zealand Chief Pilot David Morgan.

He said the oil from the plum-sized jatropha fruit performed "well through both the fuel system and engine".

Fewer emissions

Air New Zealand said it was the first time a second-generation biofuel had been used to partly power a passenger plane.

Air New Zealand Chief Executive Rob Fyfe said the completion of Tuesday's flight was "a milestone for the airline and commercial aviation".

Second-generation biofuels are said typically to use a wider range of plants and release fewer emissions than traditional biofuels such as ethanol.

The International Air Transport Association says it wants a 10th of aviation fuel to come from biofuels by 2017.

Critics of biofuels are opposed to turning farmland over to the cultivation of energy crops at the expense of growing food.

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