Virgin to operate ‘guilt-free’ transatlantic flight

Virgin flights to South America
By Lisa James
Home » Virgin to operate ‘guilt-free’ transatlantic flight

The UK Government is claiming guilt-free flying is one step closer to reality today, after announcing it has chosen Virgin Atlantic to receive funding for the first net-zero transatlantic flight next year.

Virgin will receive £1m funding, to enable it to operate a London-New York flight using solely sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) at some point in 2023. 

When is the flight and will paying passengers be on board?

Yes, in 2023, a normal Boeing 787 passenger plane will fly from Heathrow to New York. It will be the first transatlantic commercial flight powered by green fuel.

What’s SAF?

Sustainable aviation fuels can be made from household waste, oils, fats and even plants. Because they don’t need extracting, experts say their use cuts emissions by 70% compared to kerosene.

The Virgin flight will be powered primarily from waste oils and fats, such as used cooking oil, and the Government says that the use of 100% SAF on the flight, combined with carbon removal through biochar credits – a material which traps and stores carbon taken from the atmosphere – will make the flight net-zero.

Has anything like this been done before?

The world’s first sustainable fuel military transporter flight, using 100% SAF, was completed by the RAF last month using a Voyager aircraft. 

What’s next?

The Government acknowledges that challenges remain, including the need to scale-up SAF production and the existing limit on how much SAF is permitted in jet engines by current fuel specifications.

Currently, a maximum of 50% SAF blended with kerosene can be used in commercial jet engines.

Other challenges include high fuel production costs, while some environmentalists question the green credentials of SAF and say the only way to be more green is to fly less.

Nevertheless, as Rolls-Royce Head of Sustainability Rachael Everard said: “This represents an incredible milestone for the entire aviation industry in its journey towards net zero carbon emissions.”

Going forward, the Government says it will introduce a SAF mandate requiring at least 10% of jet fuel to be made from sustainable sources by 2030.

Who’s behind this flight?

The UK Government is funding a consortium led by Virgin, which includes Rolls-Royce, Boeing and Imperial College London.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper said the project brings ‘together some of the best businesses and academics in the world and led by a British airline’.

Will it make it across?

The consortium says the plane is sure to make it across the Atlantic safely because they have run test flights, although did not disclose the distances, Sky News reports.

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