White and red airplane taking off, against a backdrop of blue sky

Virgin Atlantic, a frontrunner in the aviation industry's endeavor of making air travel more sustainable, recently launched an eco-conscious flight from Heathrow (UK) to JFK (US). Despite the challenges faced by this innovative project, such as the need for sufficient fuel supply and advanced technology, some things deserve to be highlighted.

The flight was unique, carrying no fare-paying passengers, and authorized by the Civil Aviation Authority of the UK after careful examination and endorsement. Read more.

The SAF Strategies For Achieving Net Zero Emissions In Aviation

Derived from a variety of sources, including waste fats, crops, and used cooking oils, Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAFs) are seen as a critical tool for environmental conservation.

The Boeing 787 used for Virgin Atlantic's pioneering flight carried 50 tonnes of SAF, 88% of which was sourced from waste fats and the remaining from US corn production wastes.

Although planes using SAF still emit carbon, the industry contends that the "lifecycle emissions" can be reduced by up to 70% with such fuels.

More About The Virgin Atlantic's Flight

Significant industry players, such as Rolls-Royce, the engine manufacturer, and BP, the energy giant, participated in the project.

Shai Weiss, the CEO of Virgin Atlantic, said that the flight was a significant achievement: he emphasized the potential of SAF to replace fossil-derived fuel while acknowledging the obstacles of sufficient SAF availability and increased flight costs due to the pricier fuel.

Current Usage And Future Plans Of SAFs

At present, SAF is blended in minimal amounts with conventional jet fuel and makes up less than 0.1% of global aviation fuel consumption. Its higher cost and limited production pose substantial barriers.

Expert Opinions

Despite the celebrated milestone of the first 100% SAF-fueled long-haul flight, experts caution that such fuels are not a cure-all. Dr. Guy Gratton of Cranfield University, for example, is someone who suggests that the burgeoning use of SAF should be seen as a stepping-stone toward genuinely net-zero technologies.

SAFs And The UK

Specifically about the UK, although it does not have any exclusive commercial SAF plants currently, the government aims to have five under construction by 2025.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper highlighted the government's plan to mandate that 10% of aviation fuel be SAF by 2030. He also expressed support for the development of hydrogen and electric flights for shorter distances.

The industry now aims to secure enough affordable SAF to meet this requirement, preferably sourced from the UK, to prevent higher fuel costs for UK passengers and the potential loss of thousands of jobs overseas.