Virgin Atlantic to run ‘world’s first’ net zero transatlantic flight

Virgin Atlantic is receiving government funding to run the first net zero transatlantic flight from the UK next year.

A Boeing 787 Dreamliner will fly from Heathrow to New York solely powered by sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).

This flight is expected to be fuelled by SAF made primarily from waste oils and fats, such as used cooking oil. 

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 it net zero, according to the Department for Transport.

When fully replacing kerosene, SAF can slash lifecycle carbon emissions by more than 70% compared to conventional fossil jet fuel.

The government will introduce a SAF mandate requiring at least 10% of jet fuel to be made from sustainable sources by 2030.

Delivering the transatlantic flight will help to gather the data needed to support ongoing and future work to test and certify higher blends of SAF while exploring how operational efficiency improvements, flight optimisation and carbon removals can contribute to achieving net-zero flights.

SAF could create a UK industry with an annual turnover of £2.4 billion by 2040, supporting up to 5,200 UK jobs by 2035, according to government estimates.

Transport secretary Mark Harper said:  “For decades, flying from London to New York has symbolised aviation’s ability to connect people and drive international progress. It’s now going to be at the forefront of cutting carbon emissions from flying.

“Not only will this flight pave the way for future generations, but it will demonstrate just how much we can achieve when we work together on a shared goal - bringing together some of the best businesses and academics in the world and led by a British airline.”

Virgin Atlantic chief executive Shai Weiss added: “As an airline founded on and committed to innovation, we’re proud to lead a cross industry consortium of partners to make aviation history by operating the first ever 100% SAF flight across the Atlantic. 

“Virgin Atlantic’s inaugural flight in 1984 was to New York and today it continues to be one of our most popular routes. It will be an honour to pave the way for this important business and leisure route to become even more sustainable.

“This challenge recognises the critical role that SAF has to play in decarbonising aviation and the urgent collective action needed to scale production and use of SAF globally. 

“The research and results will be a huge step in fast tracking SAF use across the aviation industry and support the investment, collaboration and urgency needed to produce SAF at scale. Our collective ambition of net zero by 2050 depends on it.”

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