In a seminal move for the aviation sector, and one which will be watched with interest by underwriters, Virgin Atlantic will fly from London to New York on 28 November using 100% sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).
Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority on Monday granted Virgin Atlantic a permit for a transatlantic flight powered only by SAF to showcase how the fuel can be used to decarbonise flying.
The permit was awarded following a number of technical reviews by the UK regulator, including successful ground testing of running the Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engine that powers Virgin’s 787 aircraft.
Virgin must now seek permission from regulators in the United States, Ireland and Canada for the flight.
Virgin said it hoped the flight would highlight the need the challenge to make SAF more readily available. Currently SAF is only made in small volumes and costs between three to five times as much as regular jet fuel.
Airlines are pinning their hopes on SAF, which uses waste such as cooking oils to reduce emissions by up to 70% compared to fossil fuels, to decarbonise flying before new electric and hydrogen-powered options expected in the coming decades.
SAF is currently used to power jet engines but only as part of a blend with traditional kerosene.
SAF accounted for only 0.5% of aviation fuel in 2021, but many airlines have a target of 10% by 2030 and the industry’s goal of net zero emissions by 2050 relies on SAF accounting for 65% of fuel.