Virgin Atlantic completes first flight across the Atlantic powered by sustainable aviation fuel


104 years after the first airplane flew across the Atlantic Ocean, Virgin Atlantic marked another transatlantic milestone this week: the first commercial and widebody aircraft flight crossing the ocean on 100 per cent sustainable aviation fuel (or SAF.)

A Boeing 787, powered by Rolls-Royce engines, flew from London Heathrow to New York JFK on Tuesday, demonstrating the capability of SAF as a safe drop-in replacement for fossil fuel-derived jet fuel, the company says.

The fuel for the flight was a blend of 88 per cent HEFA (Hydroprocessed Esters and Fatty Acids) supplied by AirBP and 12 per cent SAK (Synthetic Aromatic Kerosene) supplied by Virent, a subsidiary of Marathon Petroleum. HEFA is made from waste fats while the SAK came from plant sugars.

Sir Richard Branson and Virgin Atlantic CEO Shai Weiss on the tarmac for the first SAF-powered transatlantic flight.

The prospect of future demand for SAF from airlines has contributed to major investment in soybean and canola processing facilities in the U.S. and Canada over the past few years, with fossil fuel companies like Marathon Petroleum investing in soybean crush facilities.

With lifecycle CO2 emissions savings of up to 70 per cent versus fossil fuel, SAF is “the only viable solution for decarbonising long haul aviation,” said Shai Weiss, Virgin Atlantic’s CEO.

“It’s taken radical collaboration to get here and we’re proud to have reached this important milestone, but we need to push further. There’s simply not enough SAF and it’s clear that in order to reach production at scale, we need to see significantly more investment,” he continued. “This will only happen when regulatory certainty and price support mechanisms, backed by government, are in place.”


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