Regulators have given Virgin Atlantic permission to carry out the world’s first transatlantic flight from London to New York on 100 per cent sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).
SAFs are typically derived by combining jet fuel with alternatives such as biofuels or recycled oils from industrial food facilities to achieve carbon savings of up to 70 per cent. They are often considered to be the most carbon-efficient option for aviation given the limits of current technology, which leaves electric and hydrogen planes in the prototype stage for now.
Currently, SAF is approved for use in all aircraft, but only in blends of up to 50 per cent with conventional jet fuel.
Virgin Atlantic was awarded up to £1m of UK government funding in December 2022, following a challenge from the Department for Transport (DfT) to support the industry in achieving the first transatlantic flight on an aircraft powered by 100 per cent SAF.
The test flight involved a consortium of companies including Boeing, Rolls-Royce and BP to demonstrate the viability of SAF as an alternative to regular jet fuel.
Rob Bishton, CAA chief executive, said: “As the UK’s aviation regulator, it’s important that we safely enable the industry to embrace more sustainable practices and push the boundaries of what’s possible to create a greener aviation industry.
“Innovation and sustainability are vital areas of work, but they must go hand in hand with safety. This is a reminder that together we can drive change, reduce emissions and make the skies greener for generations to come.”
In January, Emirates flew a Boeing 777 on SAF from Dubai International Airport, although only one of its engines was powered with SAF.
Transport Secretary Mark Harper said: “The world’s journey to decarbonising flight starts here in the UK, with today’s announcement helped by government funding so people can continue to travel how they want, in a way that’s fit for the future.
“By turning waste materials into the fuel of the future that will power our aviation sector, it’s UK innovation that is leading the way with the world’s first transatlantic 100% SAF-powered flight.”
Shai Weiss, CEO of Virgin Atlantic, said: “Getting to this point has been more than a year in the making and has taken radical collaboration across our consortium partners and government. We’re committed to using 10 per cent SAF by 2030, but to get there we need the government to support the creation of a UK SAF industry. We know that if we can make it, we can fly it.”