British aviation regulators have cleared Virgin Atlantic to operate the first transatlantic flight powered with 100% sustainable aviation fuel after issuing the airline with a special permit for the November 28 flight from London Heathrow to New York JFK.
International rules currently bar airlines from flying planes solely with sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), so this flight required a special permit, which has taken months of technical assessment to approve.
The 100% SAF flight will take place on one of Virgin Atlantic’s Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners, which are powered by Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engines.
The test flight has been made possible following a partnership between Virgin Atlantic, Boeing, Rolls-Royce, BP and the Department of Transport who joined forces to study the feasibility of operating 100% SAF flights.
The flight will be partly funded by the British government.
“Getting to this point has been more than a year in the making and taken radical collaboration across our consortium partners and government,” commented Virgin Atlantic CEO Shai Weiss on Monday.
“We’re committed to using 10% SAF by 2030, but to get there, we need the government to support the creation of a UK SAF industry. We know that if we can make it, we can fly it,” Weiss continued.
SAF is key to the airline industry cutting harmful greenhouse emissions, but SAF production is currently on a tiny scale, and it could take years to ramp up production to a meaningful level.
Although the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority has given its seal of approval for the flight to go ahead, it still requires special permission from the Federal Aviation Authority, Transport Canada, and Irish Aviation Authority because the plane will be flying through US, Canadian and Irish airspace en route to New York.
At present, SAF can currently be used in jet engines to a maximum blend of 50%, although few airlines that operate SAF flights use the maximum permitted blend.
Last month, Emirates operated its first-ever SAF-powered commercial flight from Dubai to Sydney with a blend of 40% SAF. Emirates has, however, already operated a 100% SAF-powered demonstration flight in January in the Middle East.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.