Virgin Atlantic’s Flight 100 Demonstrates the Positive Impact of Sustainable Aviation Fuel on Air Quality and Contrail Formation – Travel And Tour World

Virgin Atlantic has revealed the key outcomes of Flight100, marking the pioneering transatlantic journey powered entirely by Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF). This milestone flight not only demonstrated the safety and efficacy of SAF within existing aviation infrastructure, resulting in significant CO2 reductions, but also showcased additional benefits such as improved local air quality and reduced contrail formation.

Flight100, which completed its voyage from London Heathrow to New York JFK on November 28, 2023, utilized 100% SAF on a Boeing 787 equipped with Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engines. Remarkably, no modifications to the aircraft’s engines, airframe, or fuel systems were necessary, maintaining safety standards on par with conventional commercial flights.

The success of Flight100 was the culmination of collaborative efforts by a consortium led by Virgin Atlantic, which included industry giants like Boeing and Rolls-Royce, as well as esteemed academic institutions like Imperial College London and the University of Sheffield, supported by funding from the Department for Transport. Regulatory approvals from authorities such as the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and the US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) further validated the project’s safety and feasibility.

The consortium’s recent findings from Flight100 highlight several key achievements:

  1. Lifecycle analysis revealed a substantial 64% reduction in CO2 emissions compared to a standard London Heathrow to New York JFK flight, equating to a saving of 95 tonnes of CO2—equivalent to taking 54 cars off the road for a year or powering 33 UK homes for the same duration.
  2. SAF demonstrated a 40% decrease in non-CO2 particulate emissions, indicating a positive impact on local air quality and contrail formation reduction.
  3. Improved fuel burn efficiency of SAF resulted in 1% more energy compared to fossil fuel, contributing to overall fuel savings and environmental benefits.
  4. Operational efficiencies, including optimized routing and reduced taxi times, led to a 4% reduction in overall fuel burn, amounting to significant jet fuel savings across Virgin Atlantic’s operations.
  5. Validation of contrail forecasting models paves the way for future operational measures to further mitigate contrail formation and its climate impacts.

Building on the success of Flight100, ongoing collaboration is crucial to expanding SAF usage across global aviation. A technical deep dive led by the consortium on June 3, 2024, will facilitate knowledge sharing and pave the way for industry-wide adoption.

In addition to technical advancements, regulatory frameworks must evolve to support sustainable aviation initiatives. The UK Government’s commitment to implementing SAF mandates and fostering a robust SAF industry can unlock substantial economic value and job creation.

Virgin Atlantic remains dedicated to sustainable aviation, leveraging its expertise and innovative approach to drive progress across the industry. With a proven track record and a commitment to continual improvement, Flight100 signifies a significant step towards greener aviation practices.

Shai Weiss, Chief Executive Officer, Virgin Atlantic said: “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 decarbonise 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. 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% SAF, but a scale up in production of c. 100 times from where we are today is needed to meet 10% SAF by 2030. We must now see urgent action from 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.”

Sir Richard Branson, Founder, Virgin Atlantic said: “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% 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 decarbonise long haul flight.”

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