Virgin Atlantic founder Sir Richard Branson hailed the first transatlantic flight operated wholly on fuel processed from waste cooking oil, animal fats and plant stalks as “historic” on Tuesday.
The carrier’s ‘Flight100’ from Heathrow to New York was the world’s first commercial flight to use no oil-derived kerosene but 100% ‘sustainable aviation fuel’ (SAF).
Branson said: “You have to make the first step. Up until today it was thought long-haul flights would never fly sustainably. We’ve proved that wrong.
“Proving this can be done is the first step. Then it’s a matter of the government and oil companies getting involved. There is a lot of work to be done to produce this fuel at a price that is competitive so it becomes the norm.”
Virgin Atlantic chief executive Shai Weiss pointed out there is only enough SAF produced at present to comprise 0.1% of aviation fuel, when the government is poised to legislate to require 10% SAF use by 2030.
Weiss said: “We need to multiply [SAF production] 100 times. We need legislators to provide a price certainty mechanism, just as we had a price certainty mechanism for solar and wind energy.”
He warned that without such a mechanism “we’re going to be left to buy the fuel [in the US and EU] without the UK getting the benefit and there is going to be a premium. It is going to be two, three, four times the cost of jet fuel.”
Branson agreed: “There is a revolution in solar and wind energy. We’re trying to help the government and fuel companies see a path forward so that one day all planes can be powered like this. We’ve proved it can be done. The next step is pushing to make sure the government follows through, the fuel companies follow through, other airlines follow.
“If you go back 12 months, no one thought long-haul aircraft would have anything but a bad carbon footprint, that airlines would be last [to decarbonise]. We’ve proved long-haul aircraft may be play a part alongside other sectors.”
Branson added: “The great thing about green energy is that we’ll not be relying on Russia or Saudi Arabia. We can make this fuel in Britain. The feedstocks for this fuel were waste products from restaurants and plant stalks, not in any way moving into the food supply.”
Transport secretary Mark Harper was among up to 100 observers on the flight and hailed the achievement by Virgin Atlantic and “a consortium of British companies”. But he said the government needs to consult on a price support mechanism and nothing would be in place before the next general election.