Virgin Atlantic Plans First-Ever 100% Sustainable Aviation Fuel-Powered Transatlantic Flight this Year
A consortium led by Virgin Atlantic announced today that it has scheduled the first-ever transatlantic flight using 100% sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) for November 28, 2023, following the successful completion of a key ground test, and pending further regulatory approvals and testing.
The upcoming flight, which still requires further regulatory approvals and testing, will be conducted on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which will fly from London Heathrow to New York JFK.
The consortium includes Rolls Royce, Boeing, University of Sheffield, Imperial College London and Rocky Mountain Institute, and the initiative is funded by the UK Government’s Department for Transport.
The announcement follows a pledge last year by the UK government to deliver the first-ever net-zero emissions transatlantic flight, powered by 100% sustainable aviation fuel by the end of 2023, and an announcement in December by the government that Virgin Atlantic had won a competition to receive funding to operate the flight.
Fuel accounts for the vast majority of the aviation sector’s emissions. Generally produced from sustainable resources, like waste oils and agricultural residues, SAF producers estimate the fuels can result in lifecycle GHG emissions reductions of as much as 85% relative to conventional fuels.
Efforts to meaningfully increase the use of SAF by airlines face significant challenges, however, including the low supply currently available on the market, and prices well above those of conventional fossil-based fuels. SAF currently represents less than 0.1% of jet fuel volumes, and fuel standards currently allow for only a 50% SAF blend in commercial jet engines.
The company said that the flight will demonstrate the potential of SAF as a 100% drop-in replacement for fossil-based jet fuels.
Shai Weiss, CEO, Virgin Atlantic, said:
“The 100% Sustainable Aviation Fuel transatlantic flight will be a historic moment in aviation’s roadmap to decarbonisation. Alongside fleet transformation, SAF is the most readily available way for our industry to decarbonise, but currently there’s not enough supply and without it and the radical collaboration required to produce it, we can’t meet our 2030 targets.”
SAF for the flight will be supplied by fuel suppliers Air bp and Virent, and will include a blend of 88% Hydroprocessed Esters and Fatty Acids (HEFA), which utilizes waste fats, oils, and greases as feedstock, and 12% synthetic aromatic kerosene (SAK), derived from plant sugars.
Alongside the scheduling of the flight, Virgin Atlantic and Rolls-Royce confirmed the successful completion of a successful ground test on Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engine using 100% SAF, marking a key milestone in the approvals process.
Rob Watson, President of Civil Aerospace at Rolls-Royce, said:
“We are incredibly proud that our Trent 1000 engines will power the first ever flight using 100% Sustainable Aviation Fuel across the Atlantic. Confirming that we have successfully completed the ground test of the Trent 1000 engine today, using the chosen 100% SAF blend, gives us increased confidence for the engine’s performance and operation ahead of the flight this November. The flight will represent an incredible milestone for the entire aviation industry in its journey towards net zero carbon emissions.”