Britain’s Virgin Atlantic and Rolls-Royce have announced a “world first” transatlantic flight exclusively powered by so-called sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).
The “one off” flight from London Heathrow Airport to John F. Kennedy International in New York is to take off on November 28, the airline said, provided it gets “further regulatory approvals” and following more testing.
But after the engine to be used, made by luxury carmaker Rolls-Royce, successfully passed a “milestone” test, the planned first flight across the Atlantic Ocean entirely powered by SAF has been “confirmed,” Virgin said, adding that the 60 tonnes of fuel for the project would be provided by BP and Vivent.
The project is being funded by the UK Department for Transport and “includes Rolls Royce [sic], Boeing, University of Sheffield, Imperial College London and Rocky Mountain Institute,” according to the statement.
SAF is mostly plant and waste-derived and is being touted as a low-carbon or even carbon-free replacement for oil-based kerosene in aviation.
According to Virgin and BP, “SAF has a fundamental role to play in aviation’s decarbonization and pathway to Net Zero 2050.”
The aim of the November flight, which will deploy a Boeing 780 Dreamliner, is to “demonstrate the potential of SAF as a 100% drop-in replacement for fossil fuel today.”
But the companies cautioned that as things stand “SAF represents less than 0.1% of jet fuel volumes and fuel standards allow for just a 50% SAF blend in commercial jet engines.”
According to a recently-published study in the journal Nature, if aviation in Europe is to reach net zero, it will also require a reduction in flying, in part due to the prohibitive technological and financial challenges thrown up by the transition to SAF.