Virgin Atlantic’s pioneering Flight 100 – the first transatlantic commercial airliner to operate on 100% sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) – saved the lifecycle equivalent of 95 tonnes of CO2, or 64% of the emissions of a standard London Heathrow to New York JFK flight, analysis has concluded.

Flight 100, operated on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner using Rolls-Royce Trent 100 engines, used a blend of ‘drop-in’ SAF: 88% HEFA (hydroprocessed esters and fatty acids)-produced fuel supplied by AirBP and 12% synthetic aromatic kerosene provided by Virent. “We have demonstrated that it can be done – SAF is a safe drop in replacement for fossil fuel and can be used with today’s infrastructure,” said Shai Weiss, CEO of Virgin Atlantic.

Analysis from the Virgin Atlantic-led consortium responsible for “more than a year of radical collaboration” behind the flight – including Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Imperial College London, the University of Sheffield, ICF and the Rocky Mountain Institute – has now revealed further details of the flight’s environmental impact.

Alongside the carbon reduction benefits of SAF, a 40% reduction in non-CO2 particulate emissions was recorded, indicating that the use of SAF could have a “material impact on improving local air quality at airports and reducing the formation of persistent contrails”. The verification of contrail forecasting models, through continued work led by RMI’s Contrail Impact Task Force, could also lead to operational measures to reduce contrail formation. Additionally, Flight100 registered an overall fuel burn efficiency, with the flight’s SAF producing 1% more energy compared to the same mass of fossil fuel.

However, founder of Virgin Atlantic Sir Richard Branson cautioned that the flight “was a pivotal moment but not a silver bullet;” emphasising the need for collaboration to “scale SAF at pace”. A recently announced mandate will require all commercial flights departing the UK to use a blend of 2% SAF from 2025, rising to 10% by 2030, in line with the government’s net zero 2050 strategy. “We must now see urgent action from government, oil majors and private capital to invest in the production capacity needed to deliver a thriving UK SAF industry,” concluded Weiss.
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