Virgin Atlantic’s first commercial flight on 100% SAF has taken off from London Heathrow to New York JFK today, the first flight with paying passengers to do so.
The flight follows on from test flights carried out in November.
SAF has a significant role to play in the decarbonisation of long haul aviation, and pathway to Net Zero 2050. The fuel, made from waste products, delivers CO2 lifecycle emissions savings of up to 70%, whilst performing like the traditional jet fuel it replaces.
While other technologies such as electric and hydrogen remain decades away, SAF can be used now. Today, SAF represents less than 0.1% of global jet fuel volumes and fuel standards allow for just a 50% SAF blend in commercial jet engines. Flight100 will prove that the challenge of scaling up production is one of policy and investment, and industry and government must move quickly to create a thriving UK SAF industry.
As well as proving the capabilities of SAF, Flight100 will assess how its use affects the flight’s non-carbon emissions with the support of consortium partners ICF, Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), Imperial College London and University of Sheffield. The research will improve scientific understanding of the effects of SAF on contrails and particulates and help to implement contrail forecasts in the flight planning process. Data and research will be shared with industry, and Virgin Atlantic will continue its involvement with contrail work through RMI’s Climate Impact Task Force, which is part-funded by Virgin Unite.
The SAF used on Flight100 is a unique dual blend; 88% HEFA (Hydroprocessed Esters and Fatty Acids) supplied by Air bp and 12% SAK (Synthetic Aromatic Kerosene) supplied by Virent, a subsidiary of Marathon Petroleum Corporation. The HEFA is made from waste fats while the SAK is made from plant sugars, with the remainder of plant proteins, oil and fibres continuing into the food chain. SAK is needed in 100% SAF blends to give the fuel the required aromatics for engine function. To achieve Net Zero 2050, the innovation and investment needed across all available feedstocks and technologies must be harnessed to maximise SAF volumes as well as continuing the research and development needed to bring new zero emission aircraft to market.
Virgin Atlantic is committed to finding more sustainable ways to fly, taking action across every part of the journey. Already operating one of the youngest and most fuel and carbon efficient fleets in the sky, Flight100 builds on the airline’s 15-year track record for leading on the development of SAF at scale. Collectively, industry and government must go further, to create a UK SAF industry and meet aviation’s 10% SAF by 2030 target, capitalising on the significant social and economic benefits it will bring – an estimated contribution of £1.8 billion in Gross Value Added to the UK and more than 10,000 jobs.
Shai Weiss, Chief Executive Officer, 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. 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. This will only happen when regulatory certainty and price support mechanisms, backed by Government, are in place. Flight100 proves that if you make it, we’ll fly it.”