Virgin Atlantic reveals findings from 100 per cent test SAF flight

Virgin Atlantic reveals findings from 100 per cent SAF flight

Virgin Atlantic’s groundbreaking ‘Flight100’, the world’s first commercial transatlantic flight powered entirely by sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), has yielded promising results.

Operating from London Heathrow to New York JFK in November 2023, the flight utilized a Boeing 787-9 aircraft equipped with Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engines running on 100 per cent SAF.

Remarkably, the aircraft required no modifications to its engine, airframe, or fuel infrastructure and maintained safety standards equivalent to conventional flights. The initiative aimed to demonstrate the viability of SAF as a safe and effective alternative to fossil fuel for commercial aviation while raising awareness and driving investment in sustainable aviation fuel production.

Virgin’s report, released recently, reveals several key findings. Flight100 achieved a remarkable 64 per cent reduction in emissions, saving 95 tonnes of CO2 compared to a standard flight on the same route. Additionally, the flight consumed 350kg less fuel than anticipated, suggesting potential fuel efficiency gains with SAF adoption.

Beyond carbon emissions, Flight100 demonstrated a 40 per cent reduction in non-CO2 particulate emissions, highlighting SAF’s potential to enhance local air quality and reduce contrail formation.

Shai Weiss, CEO at Virgin Atlantic, said: “Flight100 was more than a year in the making, demonstrating that together we can achieve more than we can alone. Virgin Atlantic is committed to finding new solutions, leading efforts to decarbonise our industry and to share any learnings or innovations. This approach underpins Flight100.

“We have demonstrated that it can be done – SAF is a safe drop-in replacement for fossil fuel and can be used with today’s infrastructure. The project findings shared today range from the carbon emission savings achieved, fuel performance vs fossil derived Jet A-1 and the wider environmental benefits that adopting SAF may deliver in the future.

“We are ready to fly 100 per cent SAF, but a scale up in production of c. 100 times from where we are today is needed to meet 10 per cent SAF by 2030. We must now see urgent action from Government, oil majors and private capital to invest in the production capacity needed to deliver a thriving UK SAF industry. We’ve proven that if enough SAF is made, we will fly it.”

Sir Richard Branson added: “It was a privilege to be onboard Flight100 with the amazing teams that made it happen. Flight100 was an example of what can be achieved through collective ambition and radical collaboration. Challenging the status quo is in our DNA at Virgin.

“Proving that 100 per cent SAF is operationally achievable today, with equivalent safety standards to all our other flights, was a pivotal moment but not a silver bullet. There is more work ahead to scale SAF at pace and whilst we cannot solve that challenge alone, Virgin Atlantic is committed to being at the forefront of the monumental effort required to decarbonise long haul flight.”

A Virgin Atlantic led consortium – jointly funded by the Department for Transport and including Rolls-Royce, Boeing, the University of Sheffield, Imperial College London and Rocky Mountain Institute – was involved in making Flight100 possible.

A consortium-led “technical deep dive” will follow the release of these results on 3 June, aiming to “ensure open-source information sharing”.

Flight100 was made possible through collaboration with a consortium comprising various stakeholders, including Rolls-Royce, Boeing, and academic institutions. Going forward, the consortium plans to conduct a technical deep dive to facilitate knowledge sharing and advance SAF technology.

Overall, Flight100 represents a significant milestone in the aviation industry’s journey toward sustainability, demonstrating the feasibility and benefits of SAF for commercial air travel.