Virgin Atlantic makes first transatlantic flight using sustainable jet fuel

    “The idea that this flight somehow gets us closer to guilt-free flying is a joke."


    Virgin Atlantic has made the first transatlantic flight of a commercial passenger jet powered entirely by “sustainable” fuel.

    Flight100 took off from London Heathrow and made its way across the Atlantic to New York’s JFK airport on a sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) mixture of mostly “waste fats,” as well as plant sugars, oil, proteins and fibers, a press release from Virgin Atlantic said.

    “Flight100 proves that Sustainable Aviation Fuel can be used as a safe, drop-in replacement for fossil-derived jet fuel and it’s the only viable solution for decarbonising long haul aviation. It’s taken radical collaboration to get here and we’re proud to have reached this important milestone, but we need to push further,” said Shai Weiss, chief executive officer of Virgin Atlantic, in the press release. 

    Currently, fuel standards allow commercial jet engines to use a blend containing as much as half SAF. SAF can produce up to 70 percent fewer lifecycle carbon dioxide emissions as traditional jet fuel.

    “There’s simply not enough SAF and it’s clear that in order to reach production at scale, we need to see significantly more investment,” Weiss said. “This will only happen when regulatory certainty and price support mechanisms, backed by Government, are in place.”

    One of the benefits of SAF over other potential alternative fuels is that it’s currently available, though its volume is less than 0.1 percent of the total amount of jet fuel worldwide.

    “While other technologies such as electric and hydrogen remain decades away, SAF can be used now,” the press release said. “Flight100 will prove that the challenge of scaling up production is one of policy and investment.”

    The Virgin Atlantic flight was made in a Boeing 787 powered by Rolls-Royce engines.

    “We are incredibly proud that our Trent 1000 engines are powering the first ever widebody flight using 100% Sustainable Aviation Fuel across the Atlantic today,” said Simon Burr, group director of engineering, technology and safety at Rolls-Royce, in the press release. “Rolls-Royce has recently completed compatibility testing of 100% SAF on all our in-production civil aero engine types and this is further proof that there are no engine technology barriers to the use of 100% SAF. The flight represents a major milestone for the entire aviation industry in its journey towards net zero carbon emissions.”

    Five commercial SAF production plants are slated to begin construction in the UK by 2025, reported The Guardian. The fuel used for Flight100 was imported from the European Union and the United States.

    “This flight is a key step toward our commitment to deliver 100% SAF-compatible airplanes by 2030,” said Sheila Remes, Boeing’s vice president of environmental sustainability, in the press release.

    An announcement by the UK’s Department for Transport that SAFs would “make guilt-free flying a reality” was seen as misleading by campaigners.

    “The idea that this flight somehow gets us closer to guilt-free flying is a joke,” said Cait Hewitt, Aviation Environment Federation policy director, adding that it would be extremely difficult to scale up SAF production sustainably, as The Guardian reported.

    “Hopefully, we’ll have better technological solutions in future but, for now, the only way to cut CO2 from aviation is to fly less,” Hewitt said.

    The non-carbon emissions of Virgin Atlantic’s SAF flight will be assessed in order to improve the scientific knowledge of the effects of alternative fuels on particulates and contrails, as well as to assist in the implementation of contrail forecasts in planning flights, the press release said.

    Last week, the International Civil Aviation Organization agreed to a goal of lowering jet fuel’s carbon intensity by five percent by 2030, reported The Guardian.


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