The first net-zero emissions transatlantic flight could operate as early as next year, according to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.
During a visit the US, he announced up to £1m of competition funding for the first test flight powered 100% by sustainable fuel.
He said this would ‘usher in a new era of guilt-free flying in the coming decades’.
Meeting with airline executives, he invited the sector to work closely with the UK Government to deliver the test flight in 2023.
This will help to gather the data needed to support work to test and certify sustainable aviation fuel, while exploring how engine efficiency improvements, flight optimisation and greenhouse gas removals can contribute to achieving net-zero flights.
The competition will be open to all airlines covering non-stop UK-US routes.
After an initial expression of interest phase, opening on 14 May and closing on 12 June 2022, successful airlines will be invited to submit a full stage application, and from there up to £1m will be made available to support the testing, research and personnel costs of the initiative.
Mr Shapps said the Government was committed to ‘driving forward the sustainable aviation fuel industry’.
He said it ‘has the potential to deliver significant carbon savings, improve domestic fuel security, support thousands of green jobs and put flying on a more sustainable path’.
Industry estimates suggest that a UK sustainable aviation fuel industry could be turning over up to £2.3bn a year by 2040 and support up to 5,200 UK jobs directly, as well as a further 13,600 through global exports.
The fuel, made from waste materials such as household waste or used cooking oil, offers greenhouse gas emissions savings of more than 70% compared to conventional fossil jet fuel, [when fully replacing kerosene].
When combined with greenhouse gas removals, 100% SAF will enable the delivery of a net zero flight, according to the Government.
“This trailblazing net zero emissions flight, a world first, will demonstrate the vital role that sustainable aviation fuel can play in decarbonising aviation in line with our ambitious net zero targets.
“That’s not just great news for the environment, it’s great news for passengers who will be able to visit the Big Apple without increasing damaging greenhouse gas emissions.
“It’s crucial that we place sustainability at the heart of the aviation industry’s recovery from Covid-19 and I look forward to working with them on this challenge, which will lower the impact flying across the Atlantic has on the planet.”
Current jet fuel specifications do not allow flights to use 100% SAF, meaning SAF use needs to be complemented by additional decarbonisation measures to be fully net zero.
Airlines UK chief Tim Alderslade said: “UK airlines strongly support the development of a UK SAF industry, which will play a vital role in helping our sector deliver net zero emissions by 2050, as we are committed to doing.
“This announcement will provide additional momentum to achieving this and, alongside the recent £180m in Treasury support for the development of new UK SAF plants, demonstrates the commitment of Government to making SAF a key part of the decarbonisation of aviation.
“We now need to turbocharge production in order to build the initial 3 SAF plants by 2025 and UK airlines have shown real commitment to making this happen with our partnerships with Philipps 66, Velocys and LanzaTech.”