In a significant sustainability breakthrough, Virgin Atlantic successfully completed its inaugural flight on November 28, 2023, utilizing 100 percent sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). Departing from London's Heathrow Airport and arriving at New York's John F Kennedy International Airport on November 29, the flight, dubbed Flight100, stands as a pivotal step toward achieving Net Zero emissions by 2050.
UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak expressed his enthusiasm in an Instagram post, highlighting the government's support by allocating up to £1 million for the project. Emphasizing that SAF primarily consists of waste oils and fats, Sunak underscored its potential not only in decarbonizing aviation but also in fostering a burgeoning UK industry projected to generate an annual turnover of nearly £2.5 billion and provide employment for over 5,000 individuals.
Shai Weiss, CEO of Virgin Atlantic, lauded Flight100's success, affirming that it underscores the viability of Sustainable Aviation Fuel as a secure substitute for fossil-based jet fuel. "This marks a crucial step in the decarbonization of long-haul aviation. However, to further progress, substantial investments are imperative," Weiss asserted. "The current SAF supply falls short, necessitating increased investment supported by government-backed regulatory certainty and price mechanisms. Flight100 proves our commitment: If produced, we will utilize it."
Understanding Sustainable Aviation Fue: The SAF employed to power Flight100 consists of an 88 percent blend of Hydroprocessed Esters and Fatty Acids (HEFA) provided by AirBP, combined with a 12 percent Synthetic Aromatic Kerosene (SAK) sourced from Virent, a subsidiary of Marathon Petroleum Corporation. HEFA originates from waste fats, while SAK is derived from plant sugars using by-products of plant proteins, oil, and fibers.
Advantages of SAF: SAF serves as a biofuel for aircraft, sharing properties akin to conventional jet fuel while significantly reducing carbon emissions. Furthermore, SAF has the potential to decrease greenhouse gas emissions throughout its life cycle and may even demonstrate a "net-negative GHG footprint," as outlined by Energy.gov.