Earlier this year, Virgin Atlantic announced it was planning to fly from the UK to the US using only sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), a world first in the aviation industry. However, the “historic flight” was awaiting approval from the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which has just issued the permit for Virgin Atlantic to go ahead as planned.
As international standards do not yet permit more than a 50% blend of synthetic fuel with regular jet fuel, Virgin Atlantic’s proposed flight required a specific permit to fly from the UK Civil Aviation Authority. The permit follows a programme of technical reviews by the regulator, which analysed different aspects of the planned flight, including undertaking ground testing with Rolls Royce on their Trent 1000 engine running on 100% SAF, which the Boeing 787 Dreamliner operating the flight is equipped with.
This permit not only allows Virgin Atlantic and others to showcase their commitment to sustainability, but also serves as an example of how the industry is always exploring new technologies.Rob Bishton, Chief Executive at the UK CAA
“The Civil Aviation Authority’s permit to fly Flight100 marks a key milestone and a huge achievement for all the teams working towards this historic flight. Getting to this point has been more than a year in the making and taken radical collaboration across our consortium partners and government. We’re committed to using 10% SAF by 2030, but to get there we need the government to support the creation of a UK SAF industry. We know that if we can make it, we can fly it”, Shai Weiss, CEO of Virgin Atlantic, said about being granted the authorisation.
Although the CAA permit is just one of the approvals required for the flight, it paves the way for Virgin Atlantic to submit applications to the US Federal Aviation Administration, Irish Aviation Authority and Transport Canada to allow the flight to travel through US, Irish and Canadian airspace.
The flight will depart London’s Heathrow Airport on 28 November and land at New York’s JFK Airport. The aim of the voyage is test and showcase the feasibility of flying on 100% SAF as a drop-in fuel, meaning no alterations need to be made to the engines or aircraft to replace kerosene with SAF.
SAF is fuel derived from non-petroleum based renewable sources that is capable of being used as a replacement for, or blended with, kerosene. SAF can currently be used in jet engines to a maximum blend of 50% with traditional kerosene without the need for any modifications. When fully replacing kerosene, SAF could reduce lifecycle carbon emissions by over 70% compared to conventional fossil jet fuel.
Led by Virgin Atlantic and partly funded by UK Department for Transport, Virgin Atlantic were awarded up to £1 million (€1.15 million) UK government funding in December 2022, following a challenge from the Department for Transport to support the industry in achieving the first transatlantic flight on an aircraft powered by 100% SAF.
In addition to the use of SAF, other efficiency measures are being put in place to highlight operational and in-flight efficiency along with research and development into non-CO2 aspects of the fuel which include particulate matter and contrails. A full end to end life-cycle-analysis of the flight will be undertaken, accounting for the reduction associated with the use of SAF and the fuel optimisation activities being deployed for Flight100.