Rockefeller Remarks on Alternative Aviation Fuels

July 28, 2011

Chairman Rockefeller asks Sec. Locke questions about strengthening manufacturing in America.WASHINGTON, D.C.—The price of fuel is something nearly every American has grappled with.  In a down economy with so many families just trying to make ends meet, the prices associated with everyday life matter.  Fuel gets us where we need to go and every transportation sector depends on it.  

The aviation industry is no different.  Like most industries, they are trying to cut costs and bring in revenue; they have always paid close attention to their fuel consumption, continually trying to improve their aircraft and engines to make them more efficient.

Over the past decade, however, jet fuel costs have become particularly problematic for airlines.  Since then, the average price for a gallon of jet fuel has more than tripled from 76-cents a gallon to $2.86 a gallon.  In 2010, U.S. air carriers spent over $36 billion dollars on fuel—an increase of over 18 percent from the previous year and nearly equal to labor costs as a percentage of operating expenses.

As a result, air carriers have increasingly pursued efforts to conserve fuel and increase efficiencies.  Several airlines have made substantial investments in new aircraft, or upgraded their existing aircraft to improve the fuel efficiency of their fleet.  Many other efficiency gains have come from small operational changes, such as taxiing with just one engine, or installing lighter carpeting on aircraft.

As part of these broader efforts, industry stakeholders have begun working together to pursue the development of alternative jet fuels.  Alternative fuels provide several key benefits: they increase the supply of fuel, creating competition with traditional petroleum fuels that will lower costs and price volatility.  They increase our nation’s energy security since they are developed from domestic resources.  And because they draw on America’s very own resources, they create jobs.

I am truly impressed with the progress that has been made in the development of alternative fuels over the past few years.  It has been just two years since the first test flight of a commercial jet using alternative fuels, and earlier this month, the ASTM certified certain types of these fuels for commercial use.  It is my understanding that at least one air carrier has begun using alternative fuels on a regular basis for scheduled commercial flights.

My hope is that the use of these fuels becomes commercially viable and adopted by airlines throughout the industry for use on a regular basis.

Without the critical support of the FAA, USDA, and the USAF, the research and development efforts in this area would not have come as far and as fast as they have over the past few years.  I believe it is critical that these agencies continue their efforts to promote the development of the technologies, certification efforts, and the private investment needed to make certain a vibrant alternative fuel industry becomes established in the United States.

As a nation, we continue to look for ways to do things better, be more efficient while using less—whether that’s a business like an airline or an average American middle-class family.  Efficient, economic alternatives are critical to our nation’s economy and our global competitiveness.

Our witnesses today will discuss the challenges that remain in developing alternative fuels as a viable substitute for conventional jet fuel.  I am also interested in learning what Congress needs to do to make sure we provide the necessary support and resources to continue to develop this industry.

I want to thank the Chairman for holding this hearing, and I’d like to thank the witnesses for taking the time to be here today.