Virgin Atlantic is on track to operate the world’s first 100% sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) transatlantic flight from the UK in 2023, said Luke Ervine, head of sustainability for the airline.

Virgin Atlantic is set to fly one of its Boeing 787 aircraft from London to New York using the fuel.

Speaking at the Sustainable Skies World Summit, Ervine said: “We are working alongside a consortium of industry experts. So we’ve got Boeing alongside Virgin, we’ve got Rolls Royce alongside Virgin, we’ve got industry academics, we’ve got Imperial, we’ve got Sheffield University, so we’re not on our own.

“It’s going to take a lot of hard work over the next few months but ultimately, we’ve got the right partners. It’s a very safety focused approach. But aside from those experts, we’ve got the backing of the DfT and we’ve started early conversations with the CAA. So we believe with a lot of effort and a lot of focus we will deliver the flight in Q4 of this year.”

Carbon emissions

When fully replacing kerosene, SAF can slash lifecycle carbon emissions by more than 70%, compared to conventional fossil jet fuel.

The Virgin Atlantic flight is expected to be fuelled by SAF made primarily from waste oils and fats, such as used cooking oil. The use of 100% SAF on the flight, combined with carbon removal through biochar credits – a material that traps and stores carbon taken from the atmosphere – will make the flight net zero.

Ervine added: “When we get to 100% SAF, what it means is if you create the fuel in a specific way, it makes it a drop in solution. If we can create a drop-in solution that looks and smells exactly like typical Jet A1, what it enables us to do is to put that in traditional fuel farms, so we don’t need to really change the infrastructure. We don’t need modifications on planes.”
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