World’s First SAF Flight from London Heathrow to New York JFK

World's First SAF Flight from London Heathrow to New York JFK
World's First SAF Flight from London Heathrow to New York JFK
Avatar of Harry Johnson
Written by Harry Johnson

Virgin Atlantic flight marks a world first on 100% SAF by a commercial airline across the Atlantic, flown on a Boeing 787, using Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engines.

Today, Virgin Atlantic is embarking on a momentous journey from London Heathrow to New York JFK, as they launch a groundbreaking flight fueled entirely by Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF). This flight is the result of a year-long effort driven by extensive collaboration, aiming to showcase the potential of SAF as a secure alternative to traditional fossil-based jet fuel. Notably, SAF is fully compatible with existing engines, airframes, and fuel infrastructure, solidifying its viability as a seamless replacement option.

SAF has a significant role to play in the decarbonization 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 AirBP 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 maximize 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, on its flightpath to Net Zero 2050, 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 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, capitalizing 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.

The airline acknowledged the SAF Grand Challenge President Biden set in 2021 for the US, promising the adoption of 3 billion gallons of SAF by 2030. Alongside the Inflation Reduction Act, the US government’s commitments to stimulate private investment into the US SAF industry reinforce the importance of close collaboration within the industry and globally to achieve emissions reductions targets.

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 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 is 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.”

Sir Richard Branson, Founder, 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, that pioneering spirit continues to be Virgin Atlantic’s beating heart as it pushes the boundaries from carbon fibre 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.”

UK Transport Secretary Mark Harper said: “Today’s historic flight, powered by 100% sustainable aviation fuel, shows how we can both decarbonize transport and enable passengers to keep flying when and where they want.

“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.”

Dame Karen Pierce, His Majesty’s Ambassador to the United States said: “This world first marks a crucial step in the UK’s journey towards Jet Zero aviation emissions.

“We look forward to continuing our close work alongside the US to increase the use of this pioneering fuel as we welcome the sustainable flights of the future.”

Executive Director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Rick Cotton said: “As part of our agencywide goal to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, the Port Authority strongly encourages and supports efforts by our airport stakeholders to reduce their carbon footprint and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We are thrilled to welcome the first transatlantic flight using 100% sustainable aviation fuel into John F. Kennedy International Airport and hope that the success of Virgin Atlantic’s flight to New York will inspire the entire airport community to move forward with aggressive sustainability efforts.”

Sheila Remes, Vice President of Environmental Sustainability, 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.”

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.”

About the author

Avatar of Harry Johnson

Harry Johnson

Harry Johnson has been the assignment editor for eTurboNews for mroe than 20 years. He lives in Honolulu, Hawaii, and is originally from Europe. He enjoys writing and covering the news.

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