Virgin Atlantic Flight100: London to New York on 100% SAF

A Virgin Atlantic Dreamliner in flight.
Photo Credit: Virgin Atlantic

Flight100, Virgin Atlantic’s historic flight on 100% Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) takes off from London Heathrow to New York JFK today.

The transatlantic flight to New York marks the culmination of a year of radical collaboration, to demonstrate the capability of SAF as a safe drop-in replacement for fossil derived jet fuel, compatible with today’s engines, airframes and fuel infrastructure.

Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 London – New York

Operated on a Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 equipped with Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engines, this historic London to New York flight is the first-ever commercial airline venture across the Atlantic relying entirely on 100% SAF.

Spearheaded by Virgin Atlantic, the consortium behind this feat includes industry giants Boeing and Rolls-Royce, along with the academic prowess of Imperial College London and the University of Sheffield.

The partnership is further fortified with the involvement of ICF and the Rocky Mountain Institute, in conjunction with the Department for Transport.


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Photo Credit: Mark Harkin, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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 decarbonising 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’s 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.”

Decarbonizing Long Haul Aviation

While electric and hydrogen technologies loom on the horizon, SAF emerges as the here-and-now solution to decarbonize long-haul aviation.

Currently representing a mere 0.1% of global jet fuel volumes, SAF’s potential is hindered by policy and investment challenges.

Flight100 aims not only to demonstrate SAF’s viability but also to underscore the urgency for industry and government to collaborate in fostering a robust UK SAF industry.

Net Zero 2050

In the quest for Net Zero 2050, SAF stands as a key player. Today, it accounts for less than 0.1% of global jet fuel volumes, with commercial jet engines allowing only a 50% SAF blend.

Flight100 seeks to dispel the myth that scaling up production is a technological hurdle. Instead, it emphasizes that policy and investment are the linchpins for a thriving SAF industry.

Unveiling the Unique SAF Blend

Flight100 utilizes a distinctive dual blend of SAF—comprising 88% HEFA (Hydroprocessed Esters and Fatty Acids) from AirBP and 12% SAK (Synthetic Aromatic Kerosene) from Virent, a Marathon Petroleum Corporation subsidiary.

HEFA is derived from waste fats, while SAK is synthesized from plant sugars, ensuring a sustainable supply chain.

The innovative blend is essential for meeting the engine’s aromatic requirements, showcasing the diversity of feedstocks and technologies crucial for achieving Net Zero 2050.

The Path Forward

The aviation industry must propel itself toward a robust UK SAF industry, aiming to achieve 10% SAF usage by 2030.

The potential benefits are substantial, with an estimated contribution of £1.8 billion in Gross Value Added for the UK and the creation of over 10,000 jobs.

This collective effort underscores the social and economic advantages of embracing sustainable aviation.

Rolls-Royce’s Commitment to SAF

Recent announcements from Rolls-Royce affirm that all its in-production civil aero engine types are compatible with 100% SAF.

This commitment, made in 2021, dispels any lingering doubts about engine technology barriers. Rolls-Royce’s dedication to sustainable aviation aligns with the industry’s collective vision for a greener and more sustainable future.

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By Len Varley - Assistant Editor 5 Min Read
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