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Virgin Atlantic granted permit for historic 100% SAF flight

Photo: Virgin Atlantic

Virgin Atlantic’s historic 100% sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) flight has been granted a permit to fly by the U.K.’s Civil Aviation Authority.

Virgin Atlantic plans to fly across the Atlantic from London Heathrow to New York JFK Nov. 28 to test and showcase the feasibility of flying on 100 percent SAF.

SAF is fuel derived from nonpetroleum-based renewable sources that is capable of being used as a replacement for, or blended with, kerosene.

SAF can currently be used in jet engines to a maximum blend of 50 percent with traditional kerosene without the need for any modifications.

There are several processes to produce SAF, including algae, synthesized fuels from hydrogen waste, or from directly capturing carbon dioxide.

When fully replacing kerosene, SAF could reduce lifecycle-carbon emissions by over 70 percent compared to conventional fossil jet fuel.

The Civil Aviation Authority permit follows a program of technical reviews by the regulator, which analyzed different aspects of the planned flight, including undertaking ground testing with Rolls-Royce on a Trent 1000 engine running on 100 percent SAF.

Led by Virgin Atlantic and partly funded by the U.K. Department for Transport, preparation for the flight has involved a consortium of companies comprised of Boeing, Rolls-Royce, BP and others to demonstrate SAF as an alternative to regular jet fuel.

“The Civil Aviation Authority’s permit to fly Flight100 marks a key milestone and a huge achievement for all the teams working towards this historic flight,” said Shai Weiss, CEO of Virgin Atlantic. “Getting to this point has been more than a year in the making and taken radical collaboration across our consortium partners and government. We’re committed to using 10 percent SAF by 2030, but to get there we need the government to support the creation of a U.K. SAF industry. We know that if we can make it, we can fly it.”

Rob Bishton, chief executive at the Civil Aviation Authority, said, “As the U.K.’s aviation regulator, it’s important that we safely enable the industry to embrace more sustainable practices and push the boundaries of what’s possible to create a greener aviation industry. This permit not only allows Virgin Atlantic and others to showcase their commitment to sustainability, but it also serves as an example of how the industry is always exploring new technologies. Innovation and sustainability are vital areas of work, but they must go hand in hand with safety. This is a reminder that together we can drive change, reduce emissions and make the skies greener for generations to come.”

U.K. Transport Secretary Mark Harper added, “The world’s journey to decarbonizing flight starts here in the U.K., with today’s announcement helped by government funding so people can continue to travel how they want, in a way that’s fit for the future. By turning waste materials into the fuel of the future that will power our aviation sector, it’s U.K. innovation that is leading the way with the world’s first transatlantic 100 percent SAF-powered flight.”

The U.K. Civil Aviation Authority worked closely with the consortium throughout its application and will continue to work alongside the industry to learn more about the performance and impact of sustainable aviation fuels.

Virgin Atlantic was awarded up to 1 million pounds (USD$1.2 million) in U.K. government funding in December 2022 following a challenge from the Department for Transport to support the industry in achieving the first transatlantic flight on an aircraft powered by 100 percent SAF.

The permit is one of the approvals required for the flight and paves the way for Virgin Atlantic to submit applications to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, the Irish Aviation Authority, and Transport Canada to allow the flight to travel through U.S., Irish and Canadian airspace.

The government’s Jet Zero strategy, published in July 2022 as a roadmap for achieving net-zero aviation, includes SAF as a key consideration.

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