By John Ensor •
Updated: 28 Nov 2023 • 13:10
Image of Virgin Atlantic airliner.
IS it possible that the skies could one day become pollution-free, without sacrificing the world’s travel habits?
On Tuesday, November 28, a landmark event in aviation history unfolded as Virgin Atlantic operated the first commercial transatlantic flight completely powered by sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), taking a significant stride in reducing carbon emissions, according to GovUK.
The journey, undertaken by one of Virgin Atlantic’s Boeing 787s, took off from London Heathrow and landed at JFK International Airport, New York.
The pioneering flight, carrying Transport Secretary Mark Harper, Virgin Atlantic CEO Shai Weiss, and the company’s founder, Sir Richard Branson, showcased the feasibility of using 100 per cent SAF in long-haul flights, setting a precedent for eco-friendly air travel.
This flight represents a crucial step towards achieving a more sustainable aviation industry. The SAF, derived from non-edible waste fats, is a part of the broader endeavour to attain net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
It offers a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of about 70 per cent compared to traditional jet fuel. The UK government, recognising the importance of this initiative, had granted up to £1 million in funding in December 2022 to support the ambitious project.
The successful flight is a testament to the collaborative efforts of the government and the aviation sector. Transport Secretary Mark Harper expressed his views: ‘Today’s historic flight, powered by 100 per cent sustainable aviation fuel, shows how we can both decarbonise transport and enable passengers to keep flying when and where they want.’
He emphasised the government’s commitment to supporting the UK’s emerging SAF industry to achieve the Jet Zero goal.
Sir Richard Branson highlighted the spirit of innovation that drives Virgin Atlantic, saying, ‘The world will always assume something can’t be done, until you do it.’ He reflected on the airline’s legacy of challenging norms and pushing for advancements in sustainable aviation.
‘The spirit of innovation is getting out there and trying to prove that we can do things better for everyone’s benefit. Virgin Atlantic has been challenging the status quo and pushing the aviation industry to never settle and do better since 1984,’ Branson concluded.
Shai Weiss, the CEO of Virgin Atlantic, pointed out the importance of today’s flight, ‘Flight100 proves that sustainable aviation fuel can be used as a safe, drop-in replacement for fossil-derived jet fuel and it’s the only viable solution for decarbonising long-haul aviation.’
‘It’s taken radical collaboration to get here and we’re proud to have reached this important milestone, but we need to push further,’ before he called for increased investment and regulatory support to scale up SAF production.
As the global community gathers for COP28 in Dubai, this flight symbolises the UK’s proactive stance in addressing transportation’s decarbonisation challenges. It also lays the groundwork for further advancements in the sector, such as the UK’s commitment to having five SAF commercial plants under construction by 2025.
The journey extends beyond this flight, with the Transport Secretary set to co-chair a SAF Investor Summit in New York and visit San Francisco to explore opportunities in automated vehicle technologies, reinforcing the UK’s position as a leader in sustainable and innovative transport solutions.
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Originally from Doncaster, Yorkshire, John now lives in Galicia, Northern Spain with his wife Nina.
He is passionate about news, music, cycling and animals.
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