Virgin Atlantic’s historic flight on 100% Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) took place on 28 November 2023 from London Heathrow to New York JFK, marking 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.
“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,” said Shai Weiss, Chief Executive Officer, Virgin Atlantic. “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.”
As well as proving the capabilities of SAF, Flight100 was used to assess how its use affects the flight’s non-carbon emissions with the support of consortium partners ICF, Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), Imperial College London and University of Sheffield. The research will improve scientific understanding of the effects of SAF on contrails and particulates and help to implement contrail forecasts in the flight planning process. Data and research will be shared with industry, and Virgin Atlantic will continue its involvement with contrail work through RMI’s Climate Impact Task Force, which is part-funded by Virgin Unite.
The SAF used on Flight100 was a unique dual blend – 88% HEFA (Hydroprocessed Esters and Fatty Acids) supplied by AirBP and 12% SAK (Synthetic Aromatic Kerosene) supplied by Virent, a subsidiary of Marathon Petroleum Corporation. The HEFA is made from waste fats, while the SAK is made from plant sugars, with the remainder of plant proteins, oil and fibres continuing into the food chain.
“The world will always assume something can’t be done, until you do it,” said Sir Richard Branson, Founder, Virgin Atlantic. “The spirit of innovation is getting out there and trying to prove that we can do things better for everyone’s benefit. Virgin Atlantic has been challenging the status quo and pushing the aviation industry to never settle and do better since 1984. Fast forward nearly 40 years, that pioneering spirit continues to be Virgin Atlantic’s beating heart as it pushes the boundaries from carbon fibre aircraft and fleet upgrades to sustainable fuels.”