Virgin Atlantic is making history with its first 100% SAF transatlantic flight from London Heathrow to New York JFK. This achievement results from a year-long collaboration to showcase the potential of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) as a viable alternative to traditional jet fuel.
SAF is a safe and environmentally friendly option, compatible with existing engines, airframes, and fuel infrastructure. This remarkable milestone highlights the airline’s commitment to sustainable travel and paves the way for more eco-friendly aviation practices.
- Flight100 demonstrates that Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) is a safe and viable replacement for fossil-derived jet fuel.
- It marks a historic achievement as the first commercial airline to fly across the Atlantic using 100% SAF.
- The flight used a Boeing 787 aircraft equipped with Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engines.
- This milestone results from a collaborative effort led by Virgin Atlantic. Partners include Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Imperial College London, the University of Sheffield, ICF, Rocky Mountain Institute, and the Department for Transport.
Virgin Atlantic’s Flight100: Decarbonizing Aviation with Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF)
Flight100, a groundbreaking initiative by Virgin Atlantic, aims to accelerate the decarbonization of long-haul aviation. It paves the way towards achieving Net Zero emissions by 2050. By harnessing sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) made from waste products, Flight100 can deliver up to 70% lifecycle CO2 emissions savings while performing as effectively as traditional jet fuel.
While electric and hydrogen-powered flight technologies are still distant possibilities, SAF offers a viable solution that can be implemented today. Despite its potential, SAF currently represents less than 0.1% of global jet fuel volumes, with commercial jet engines allowing only a 50% SAF blend. However, Flight100 will demonstrate that scaling up production is primarily a matter of policy and investment. The milestone calls on industry and government to swiftly collaborate in creating a thriving SAF industry within the UK.
Evaluating Non-Carbon Emissions
Aside from showcasing the capabilities of SAF, Flight100 will also evaluate its impact on non-carbon emissions during flight. This research includes consortium partners such as ICF, Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), Imperial College London, and the University of Sheffield. It will enhance the scientific understanding of SAF’s effects on contrails and particulates. This will help add contrail forecasts into flight planning processes. Stakeholders will share valuable data and insights from this research with the industry. At the same time, Virgin Atlantic will continue to contribute to contrail work through RMI’s Climate Impact Task Force, which benefits from partial funding by Virgin Unite.
Flight100 SAF Blend
The specific SAF blend powering Flight100 is a unique combination. It uses 88% Hydroprocessed Esters and Fatty Acids (HEFA), supplied by Air bp, and 12% Synthetic Aromatic Kerosene (SAK), supplied by Virent (a subsidiary of Marathon Petroleum Corporation). HEFA comes from waste fats, while SAK comes from plant sugars. The remaining plant proteins, oil, and fibers contribute to the food chain. Including SAK in 100% SAF blends is crucial for providing the aromatics required for optimal engine function. Achieving the Net Zero 2050 goal necessitates harnessing innovation and investment across various feedstocks and technologies. Maximizing SAF production volumes and continuing research and development of new zero-emission aircraft are also essential.
Virgin Atlantic’s Sustainability Commitment
Virgin Atlantic remains firmly committed to finding more sustainable ways to fly. The airline has taken significant actions to improve sustainability at every stage of the journey. As an airline, it already operates one of the aviation industry’s youngest, most fuel-efficient, and carbon-efficient fleets. The Flight100 initiative builds upon Virgin Atlantic’s 15-year track record of pioneering SAF development at scale. However, sustainability requires collective efforts from industry and government to foster the growth of the UK SAF industry. The UK has set an ambitious target of 10% SAF utilization in aviation by 2030, and the supply must be sufficient. Working to increase SAF supply will lead to substantial environmental benefits and deliver an estimated contribution of £1.8 billion in Gross Value Added (GVA) to the UK economy while generating over 10,000 new jobs.
A Safe Drop-In Fuel Replacement for Fossil-Derived Jet Fuel
Shai Weiss, Chief Executive Officer of 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 decarbonizing 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. There’s simply not enough SAF, and it’s clear that to reach production at scale, we need to see significantly more investment. This will only happen when regulatory certainty and price support mechanisms, backed by the Government, are in place. Flight100 proves that if you make it, we’ll fly it.”
Virgin Atlantic’s Tradition of Innovation
Sir Richard Branson, Founder of Virgin Atlantic, said: “The world will always assume something can’t be done, until you do it. The spirit of innovation is getting out there and trying to prove that we can do things better for everyone’s benefit.
“Virgin Atlantic has been challenging the status quo and pushing the aviation industry to never settle and do better since 1984. Fast forward nearly 40 years, and that pioneering spirit continues to be Virgin Atlantic’s beating heart as it pushes the boundaries from carbon fiber aircraft and fleet upgrades to sustainable fuels.
“I couldn’t be prouder to be onboard Flight100 today alongside the teams at Virgin Atlantic and our partners, which have been working together to set the flight path for the decarbonization of long-haul aviation.”
Another Historic Journey For Boeing Aircraft
Sheila Remes, Vice President of Environmental Sustainability at Boeing, said: “In 2008, Virgin Atlantic and Boeing completed the first commercial SAF test flight on a 747, and today we will accomplish yet another significant milestone utilizing a 787 Dreamliner. This flight is a key step toward our commitment to deliver 100% SAF-compatible airplanes by 2030. As we work toward the civil aviation industry’s net-zero goal, today’s historic journey highlights what we can achieve together.”
Rolls-Royce Sees No Technology Barriers for SAF
Simon Burr, Group Director of Engineering, Technology & Safety, Rolls-Royce plc, said: “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. 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.”
Air bp: Scaling SAF Is Vital
Federica Berra, senior vice president of Air bp, said: “Air bp is honored to participate in this first-ever 100% SAF fuelled transatlantic flight by a commercial airline as one of the consortium’s preferred SAF suppliers. This is a milestone moment for aviation and for our industry and helps build evidence for the reliability and safety of using 100% SAF in today’s aircraft. Collaboration with industry partners is vital to successfully scale SAF, as is long-term policy support to foster supply and demand. Our expert team has worked for months in preparation for today’s flight, drawing upon their deep knowledge and skills in fuel handling, blending, and logistics, overall, ensuring product quality and safety standards have been met.”
The UK Decarbonizing Transport
Transport Secretary Mark Harper said: “Today’s 100% SAF-powered flight shows how we can decarbonize transport both now and in the future, cutting lifecycle emissions by 70% and inspiring the next generation of solutions.
“This Government has backed today’s flight to take-off, and we will continue to support the UK’s emerging SAF industry as it creates jobs, grows the economy, and gets us to Jet Zero.”