World’s first 100% SAF transatlantic flight taxis closer to takeoff

 Thursday, July 20, 2023

Virgin Atlantic

Virgin Atlantic and Rolls-Royce confirm the successful Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) blend ground test on the Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engine. The test marks a key milestone in the project which will see the world’s first 100% SAF flight travel across the Atlantic from London Heathrow to New York JFK on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner, set to take off on 28 November 2023.

In addition to the test, fuel suppliers Air bp and Virent have been announced to supply the 60 tonnes of SAF to be used in the world first, supporting consortium research, testing and the flight itself. The SAF will be produced through the Hydroprocessed Esters and Fatty Acids (HEFA) pathway as well as synthetic aromatic kerosene (SAK) SAF at an 88% and 12% blend ratio.

Virgin Atlantic is committed to finding more sustainable ways to fly on our mission to Net Zero 2050. Already operating one of the most fuel and carbon efficient fleets across the Atlantic, this flight builds on the airline’s 15-year track record for leading on SAF.  

Demonstrating that through radical collaboration, industry can deliver 100% SAF in today’s engine, airframes and fuel infrastructure for long haul flight. But collectively the industry must go further, to develop a UK SAF industry and meet aviation’s 10% SAF by 2030.

SAF typically delivers CO2 lifecycle emissions savings of more than 70% whilst performing like the traditional jet fuel it replaces. SAF has a fundamental role to play in aviation’s decarbonisation and pathway to Net Zero 2050. Today, SAF represents less than 0.1% of jet fuel volumes and fuel standards allow for just a 50% SAF blend in commercial jet engines. The one-off Virgin Atlantic flight in November will demonstrate the potential of SAF as a 100% drop-in replacement for fossil fuel today.

The realisation of the 100% SAF transatlantic flight taking to the skies is a challenging task requiring cross industry collaboration and dedicated project teams working on the research, testing and operations to make it happen. The Virgin Atlantic led consortium, joint funded by the Department for Transport, includes Rolls Royce, Boeing, University of Sheffield, Imperial College London and Rocky Mountain Institute. The successful bench engine test is a key milestone, however further permissions and safety approvals are required for the flight to take off in November.

Virgin Atlantic and the consortium will leverage the 100% SAF transatlantic flight to further SAF use, as well as addressing other environmental impacts of the sector. The project will demonstrate further reductions in CO2 from operational efficiencies, contribute to research and development into the non-CO2 effects of flying, and provide an end-to-end life cycle analysis of the flight. Any residual CO2 emissions from the flight will be mitigated using innovative carbon removals from biochar projects.

Shai Weiss, the CEO of Virgin Atlantic, remarked that the 100% Sustainable Aviation Fuel transatlantic flight would be a significant milestone in aviation’s roadmap to decarbonization. He pointed out that alongside fleet transformation, Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) is the most readily available method for the industry to decarbonize. However, he mentioned that there’s currently an insufficient supply of SAF, and without it and the necessary radical collaboration for production, they cannot meet their 2030 targets. He emphasized the need for UK government support to establish a UK SAF industry, enabling every flight out of the UK to operate with 100% SAF, and he added that if they manage to create it, they can fly it.

Rob Watson, the President – Civil Aerospace at Rolls-Royce, expressed immense pride in their Trent 1000 engines being chosen to power the first-ever flight using 100% Sustainable Aviation Fuel across the Atlantic. He confirmed the successful completion of the ground test of the Trent 1000 engine using the selected 100% SAF blend, which increased their confidence in the engine’s performance and operation ahead of the flight scheduled for November. Watson described the flight as an incredible milestone for the entire aviation industry on its journey towards achieving net zero carbon emissions.

Baroness Vere of Norbiton, the Aviation Minister, shared her delight that Virgin Atlantic confirmed the first-ever transatlantic flight powered solely by Sustainable Aviation Fuel would take place during the winter. She acknowledged the significance of government funding in making this flight a substantial step towards achieving net zero and showcasing the potential of SAF in creating jobs and contributing to economic growth.

Andreea Moyes, the Global Aviation Sustainability Director at Air bp, expressed excitement at the prospect of supplying Sustainable Aviation Fuel for the world’s first 100% SAF transatlantic flight. She highlighted SAF as the most viable option to help the industry achieve its net zero ambition in the short and medium term, particularly for long-haul flights. Moyes emphasized the importance of transitioning the industry and policy towards the use of 100% SAF through collaboration with key stakeholders to support the decarbonization of aviation.

Dave Kettner, the President & General Counsel at Virent, stated that the test demonstrated the effectiveness of Virent’s plant-based Synthesized Aromatic Kerosene (SAK) as essential fuel components in achieving 100% drop-in renewable fuel, which burns cleaner and functions seamlessly in current commercial airline engines. He expressed honor in collaborating with Virgin Atlantic, Rolls-Royce, and Air bp, recognizing them as forward-looking companies leading the way in sustainable aviation. Kettner emphasized Virent’s commitment to finding sustainable ways to fly and expressed enthusiasm for the pivotal role their BioForm® SAK plays in realizing this goal.

Sheila Remes, the Vice President of Environmental Sustainability at Boeing, expressed pride in providing technical expertise and support for the testing, as they prepare for Virgin Atlantic’s flagship Boeing 787 Dreamliner to conduct the first 100% SAF transatlantic flight. She conveyed their anticipation in continuing to work with project partners on this journey, taking another step towards a sustainable future of flight.

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