On the opening day of Sustainable Skies World Summit 2024, CEO of Virgin Atlantic Shai Weiss shared his perspective on the significance of Flight 100 and what the milestone flight represents for the wider aviation industry.

“We’ve shown what can be done. Now it’s time to achieve radical collaboration and absolute action,” explained Weiss, defining November 2023’s 100% sustainable aviation fuel-powered transatlantic flight as “a milestone not just for Virgin Atlantic, but the industry”. Despite commercially-available drop-in SAF already certified as ‘safe’, challenges abound as to how best to scale the fuel to meet ever-increasing demand.

The recently announced UK government mandate (requiring the use of 10% blended SAF on all flights leaving the UK by 2030) is “one that we will support, that our industry supports, because it will create the demand side that will really focus on the supply,” said Weiss. Virgin Atlantic will also be participating in an ongoing government consultation surrounding price certainty mechanism. “But it’s important to create the supply side. This is here in this country, creating 10,000 jobs along the way and making sure that we’re not having to import this fuel from elsewhere,” he continued.

Elaborating on the importance of government input, Weiss elaborated that he does belief “there is a role for the government to play supporting this industry,” potentially drawing on similar support in legislating and funding innovation in alternative energy industries. “Just as they have gone for solar and wing, the knowledge is there, the commitments are there,” he continued.

However, the upcoming SAF mandate – something Virgin Atlantic is already committed to “with or without the  government” – is only one side of the discussion, Weiss elaborated, explaining that the requisite production scale up to reach 10% is about 100 times the volume of SAF currently available today. Public perception is also incredibly important in the scale-up of SAF, with Flight 100 representing “a step forward to show what can be done,” bringing cleaner technologies “to the people in a way that can be absorbed and understood” as well as inspiring excitement.

“Aviation is crucial to this country,” concluded Weiss. “It’s an island nation with the ability to connect businesses, families and just allow people to travel and see the world. So we have to make a step in ensuring that aviation can be responsible and can be decarbonised”.
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