Virgin Atlantic's transatlantic flight makes history using only sustainable aviation fuel

Flight100 shows the potential of sustainable aviation fuel in long-haul flights

AVIATION-SUSTAINABILITY/VIRGIN Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 departures to perform the first 100 percent Sustainable Aviation Fuel transatlantic flight to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York from Heathrow airport, in London, Britain, November 28, 2023 | Reuters

Virgin Atlantic has made aviation history by successfully completing the world's first transatlantic flight fueled entirely by sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). Flight100, operated by Virgin Atlantic in collaboration with the University of Sheffield-led consortium, departed from London Heathrow and safely landed at New York JFK. This groundbreaking achievement not only showcases the potential of SAF but also paves the way for a greener future in the aviation industry.

By demonstrating the feasibility of replacing traditional jet fuel with SAF on long-haul flights, this achievement plays a vital role in decarbonising the aviation industry, a sector known for its significant carbon emissions.

Taking off at 1149 GMT from London's Heathrow Airport, the flight arrived at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport at 1405 EST (1905 GMT), an impressive 35 minutes ahead of schedule.  

Shai Weiss, CEO of Virgin Atlantic, emphasised the significance of Flight100 in aviation's decarbonization efforts. "Flight100 marks an important milestone in aviation’s biggest challenge – decarbonization. It’s taken radical collaboration and we’re proud to have reached this point, but we need to push further," Weiss said.

Virgin Atlantic founder Richard Branson expressed the need for action to create a UK SAF industry to enable long-haul aviation to use 100% SAF on every flight.

Rolls-Royce CEO Tufan Erginbilgic stated that SAF is the only solution to decarbonise commercial flights in the medium term.

The success of Flight100 aims to drive increased adoption of SAF in the aviation industry and contribute to the industry's goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.

What is SAF?

Sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) is a type of fuel made from renewable or waste sources that can be used as a drop-in replacement for traditional jet fuel . SAF closely resembles traditional jet fuel in appearance, smell, and functionality, allowing it to be used in existing aircraft without modifications It is made from waste products such as used cooking oil and waste animal fat, as well as synthetic aromatic kerosene made from waste corn SAF can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by up to 70 percent compared to traditional jet fuel.

The use of sustainable aviation fuel offers several advantages for the aviation industry and the environment. The successful transatlantic flight using 100 percent SAF demonstrates the viability of using sustainable aviation fuel for long-haul journeys. SAF can significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions compared to traditional jet fuel, contributing to the decarbonisation of the aviation industry.  It can be used in today's aircraft engines, airframes, and fuel infrastructure without the need for modifications. 

The Sustainable Aviation Fuels Innovation Centre (SAF-IC) at the University of Sheffield is equipped with a state-of-the-art fuel testing lab, enabling it to conduct pre-screening of sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs). This facility has the capacity to test and validate novel fuels, providing the United Kingdom with crucial testing capabilities to expedite ASTM approvals and introduce new SAF fuels to the market.

Impact on aviation

AP11_29_2023_000021B Virgin Atlantic Founder, Sir Richard Branson, UK Transport Secretary Mark Harper, and CEO, Shai Weiss, celebrate arrival of Flight100 in New York | AP

The world-first transatlantic flight using 100 percent sustainable aviation fuel represents a significant milestone in the industry's efforts to decarbonise. It showcases the potential of low-carbon options and highlights the need for increased adoption of SAF to reduce emissions in the aviation sector. While SAF currently represents less than 0.1 percent of global jet fuel volumes, the success of Flight100 aims to drive an increase in the adoption of sustainable aviation fuels. SAF can play a crucial role in the decarbonisation of the aviation industry and the pathway to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. 

The aviation industry faces challenges in scaling up the production of SAF due to the high cost and tight supply of materials needed to make it. However, the industry recognises that SAF is a crucial solution for decarbonising commercial flights in the medium term. The goal is to increase the share of SAF in the industry's fuel mix, with the aim of achieving "net zero" emissions by 2050.

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