In a historic milestone, Virgin Atlantic achieved a groundbreaking feat by sending a Boeing 787 across the Atlantic – from London’s Heathrow to JFK – fueled entirely by sustainable aviation fuels (SAF).
This achievement challenges the conventional belief that green aviation is limited to shorter flights in Europe, as this long-haul journey demonstrated the viability of sustainable alternatives for transatlantic travel.
The Boeing 787 was powered by 50 tons of SAF, derived from sources such as cooking oil, waste crops, and discarded food. This type of fuel is recognized for emitting 50% to 70% fewer emissions than traditional jet fuel. Considering that global aviation contributes only 2.8% of total emissions, a 50% to 70% reduction in this sector could significantly impact the fight against climate change.
Virgin Atlantic utilized two types of SAF for the flight, with 88% sourced from waste fats and the remainder from byproducts of corn farming in the United States. The successful journey marked a pivotal moment for the aviation industry and environmental conservation.
Onboard the historic flight was UK Transport Secretary Mark Harper, who declared upon landing that “history has been made.” While the flight was not open to the general public, it carried passengers, highlighting the practical application of sustainable aviation fuels.
Sir Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Atlantic, acknowledged that this achievement represents just the initial step in the journey towards greener aviation.
“But you have to start somewhere. And if we didn’t prove it can be done, you would never, ever get sustainable aviation fuel,” he told the BBC.
The challenge lies in transforming heavy machinery – such as planes, trains, and construction equipment – into environmentally sustainable entities. These modes of transportation require significant amounts of portable power, often derived from diesel or kerosene. The ideal solution should be both portable and combustible while meeting weight restrictions.
Currently, passenger jets face limitation in adopting green alternatives, primarily relying on SAF or hydrogen. A startup named ZeroAvia has made strides in this direction, successfully flying the largest hydrogen-powered aircraft (a 19-seater) in the spring of this. They aim to offer this technology for short national flights in Europe, contributing to the decarbonization of air travel.
In the United Kingdom, where Virgin Atlantic is headquartered, SAF constitutes only 0.1% of all passenger flight fueling. However, the UK government has ambitious plans to mandate the inclusion of 10% SAF in all airline fuels by 2030.
This proactive approach aligns with global efforts to mitigate the environmental impact of aviation, signaling a commitment to a more sustainable future for air travel.
Virgin Atlantic’s transatlantic journey using sustainable aviation fuels serves as a beacon of inspiration for the industry, demonstrating that long-haul flights can embrace environmentally friendly alternatives.
As technological advancement and regulatory initiatives continue to drive change, the aviation sector has the potential to play a significant role in addressing climate change concerns.
Watch the video below to see more about this revolutionary initiative.
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