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Flight100 consortium share flight findings

Flight100 consortium share flight findings
Flight100 flew from London Heathrow Airport (LHR) to New York's JFK on November 28, 2023. It marked the world’s first commercial aircraft operating across the Atlantic on 100 percent SAF, on a Boeing 787, using Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engines (photo courtesy Virgin Atlantic).

UK-headed air carrier Virgin Atlantic Ltd, part of Virgin Group has shared headline results from Flight100, the first transatlantic flight on 100 percent sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), proving not only that the SAF used for the flight is safe to use with existing infrastructure and delivers material reductions in carbon dioxide but can also improve local air quality, contribute to a reduction on persistent contrail formation and reduce fuel use.

Flight100 flew from the UK’s London Heathrow Airport (LHR) to New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) in the United States (US) on November 28, 2023.

The flight marked the world’s first commercial aircraft operating across the Atlantic on 100 percent SAF, on a Boeing 787, using Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engines.

The flight did not require any engine, airframe, or fuel infrastructure changes and operated on safety standards equivalent to every other commercial flight.

Flight100 was more than a year in the making, demonstrating that together we can achieve more than we can alone. Virgin Atlantic is committed to finding new solutions, leading efforts to decarbonize our industry, and to share any learnings or innovations. This approach underpins Flight100. We have demonstrated that it can be done – SAF is a safe drop-in replacement for fossil fuel and can be used with today’s infrastructure, said Shai Weiss, CEO at Virgin Atlantic.

“A year of radical collaboration”

The flight followed more than a year of radical collaboration by a Virgin Atlantic-led consortium including Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Imperial College London, University of Sheffield, ICF, and Rocky Mountain Institute, was partly funded by the Department for Transport and approved by the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and other regulators including the US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA).

The consortium published headline results from the flight including:

  • A full lifecycle analysis – shows a saving of 95 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2), or 64 percent of the emissions produced from a standard flight from LHR to JFK.
  • Additional benefits of SAF beyond carbon reductions – with a 40 percent reduction in non-CO2 particulate matter (PM) emissions. This suggests the use of SAF could have a material impact on improving local air quality at airports and reducing the formation of persistent contrails.
  • An improved overall fuel burn efficiency of SAF – Flight100 SAF produced 1 percent more energy compared to the same mass of fossil fuel. This efficiency means a reduction of the fuel used in flight which will bring further environmental benefits.
  • Operational efficiencies to reduce fuel burn – the CO2 savings achieved through efficiency initiatives including direct routing and reduced taxi time resulted in 2.2 tonnes of jet fuel saving, or 4 percent of overall fuel burn.
  • Verification of contrail forecasting models which, through continued work led by RMI’s Contrail Impact Task Force, could lead to operational measures that reduce contrail formation and climate impact.

Building on the success of Flight100, Virgin Atlantic says that the industry must “continue to radically collaborate for aviation to use SAF on all flights globally.”

It was a privilege to be onboard Flight100 with the amazing teams that made it happen. Flight100 was an example of what can be achieved through collective ambition and radical collaboration. Challenging the status quo is in our DNA at Virgin. Proving that 100 percent SAF is operationally achievable today, with equivalent safety standards to all our other flights, was a pivotal moment but not a silver bullet. There is more work ahead to scale SAF at pace and whilst we cannot solve that challenge alone, Virgin Atlantic is committed to being at the forefront of the monumental effort required to decarbonize long-haul flight, said Sir Richard Branson, Founder of Virgin Atlantic.

UK Government must match ambition with action

Following the release of the headline results, a consortium-led technical deep dive will take place on June 3, 2024. This is a further step to ensure open-source information sharing – a fundamental element of the project.

Alongside technical, operational, and regulatory advances, there must also be an evolution of policy.

UK Government must now match ambition with action – implementing its SAF mandate and moving at pace to invest in a revenue certainty mechanism to create a UK SAF industry, 10,000 jobs, and nearly £2 billon of economic value for the UK by 2030.

Virgin Atlantic says that it is committed to finding more sustainable ways to fly, taking action across every part of the journey.

Already operating one of the youngest and most fuel and carbon-efficient fleets in the sky, Flight100 builds on the airline’s 15-year track record for leading the development of SAF at scale.

The project findings shared today range from the carbon emission savings achieved, fuel performance vs fossil-derived Jet A-1, and the wider environmental benefits that adopting SAF may deliver in the future. We are ready to fly 100 percent SAF, but a scale-up in production of about 100 times from where we are today is needed to meet 10 percent SAF by 2030. We must now see urgent action from the Government, oil majors, and private capital to invest in the production capacity needed to deliver a thriving UK SAF industry. We’ve proven that if enough SAF is made, we will fly it, ended Shai Weiss.

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