Clear Air

Steven Faavesi refuels a jet with sustainable aviation fuel at MRY on Aug. 10. The fuel is refined by Neste, a Finnish fossil fuel company transitioning to renewables.

Aside from billionaires building rockets to ride into space, perhaps nothing better reflects the outsized carbon footprint of the wealthy than private air travel. And as the climate crisis, fueled by ever increasing global greenhouse gas emissions, continues to wreak havoc on the planet and the local community, the Monterey Regional Airport is trying to change that.

Starting this past March, the Monterey Fuel Company – the parent company of Del Monte Aviation and Monterey Jet Center, which essentially serve as full-service gas stations at the Monterey airport – began offering customers sustainable aviation fuel, or SAF, made from renewable feedstocks like used cooking oil and tallow.

“We’re unique in Monterey, we’re the tip of the spear in this stuff,” says Matt Wright, vice president and general manager of Monterey Fuel Company.

SAF has been around for a few years, but current federal regulations only allow for the fuel to be sold as a blend with 50-percent or more traditional fuel, though Wright says a blend of 30-percent SAF is the highest available concentration on the market. And Monterey, Wright says, is the only airport in the country where they segregate the SAF blend from traditional fuel, so that customers can have a choice.

“Our slogan is the molecules matter, and we think the more [SAF] molecules you have in the fuel, the more it matters for the environment,” he says.

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The lack of federal subsidies means SAF is still more expensive than traditional fuel (and his company makes less money on it) but there is demand. “We deal with a lot of Fortune 500 flight operations here, and most of [the companies] have sustainability programs in their corporate responsibility initiatives,” he says. “It’s a way they can make a difference.”

And there’s a new development during Car Week: 4AIR, a documentation company that seeks to facilitate sustainable private air travel, purchased an additional 24,000 gallons of SAF for the week and will be covering the increased cost to fuel up for any interested operators. Additionally, the company will be purchasing carbon offsets for any planes flying into or out of Del Monte Aviation, so that all the flights will theoretically be carbon neutral.

“There’s a lot of education that still needs to happen with SAF, in getting people comfortable with it,” says 4AIR founder and president Kennedy Ricci. “We’re trying to ease them in without the additional cost.”

For Wright, the location is also perfect: “We live in such a place of natural beauty,” he says. “This makes sense.”

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