Virgin Atlantic made history by completing the first transatlantic flight powered only by sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).
The flight, which took off from London Heathrow Airport en route to New York’s JFK airport yesterday, was operated by a Boeing 787 Dreamliner, branded as “Flight100”, which has been converted to use SAF.
The flight was not carrying any fare-paying passengers, but was instead crewed by Virgin Atlantic pilots and engineers, as well as Virgin founder, Sir Richard Branson, and the transport secretary, Mark Harper.
The use of SAF is considered a major step forward in the aviation industry’s efforts to decarbonise its operations. SAF is produced from a variety of sustainable sources, such as cooking oil, waste fats, and algae. It can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 80% compared to traditional jet fuel.
“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,” said Virgin Atlantic CEO Shai Weiss in a press release.
But while SAF has the potential to significantly reduce emissions from air travel, its uptake has been slow due to its high cost, typically three to four times more than traditional jet fuel.
However, the cost of the fuel is expected to drop in the future as production capacity increases. The UK government has set its sights on becoming a ‘world leader’ in its production and has proposed a revenue certainty mechanism that will give producers greater assurance about earnings from the SAF they produce.
Earlier this year, Emirates partnered with Shell Aviation to introduce SAF at its Dubai hub. With the first delivery expected before the end of the year, this agreement will deliver over 300,000 gallons of SAF, marking the first time this type of fuel will be available at Dubai International Airport.
Speaking to the BBC, Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson also admitted it was “going to take a while” before there was enough SAF for everybody to use.
“You have to start somewhere,” he added. “And if we didn’t prove it can be done, you would never, ever get sustainable aviation fuel.”
Yesterday’s flight was made possible by a partnership between Virgin Atlantic, the UK government, and a number of other organisations, including Boeing, Rolls-Royce, and Neste.
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