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The inaugural transatlantic flight using exclusively “Sustainable Aviation Fuel” (SAF) is scheduled to depart at 11:30am today from London Heathrow, headed for New York JFK.
Virgin Atlantic is using the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, known as “Virgin100”, on the busiest international air route. The airline has received special authorization from aviation authorities in Britain, Ireland, Canada, and the United States for this groundbreaking flight.
Sir Richard Branson, the creator of Virgin Atlantic, and Mark Harper, the transportation secretary, will be on the plane – but there will be no paying passengers on board.
SAF is created using renewable materials like agricultural byproducts and discarded cooking oil, resulting in a production process that emits approximately 70% less carbon.
The two Rolls-Royce engines will be mainly fuelled by processed waste fats, known as HEFA (hydroprocessed esters and fatty acids). But 12 per cent of plant-based “synthetic aromatic kerosene” (SAK) is added to provide the necessary mix for the engines to function normally.
According to Virgin Atlantic, their fuel option can reduce CO2 emissions by up to 70% over the course of its lifecycle and operates similarly to traditional jet fuel. This means that the emissions for a 3,451-mile flight will be equivalent to those of a flight powered by kerosene.
Savings are achieved by utilizing resources at different stages of their life cycle, such as the absorption of CO2 from the atmosphere during plant growth and preventing household waste from being disposed in landfills.
Activists for the environment challenge the advantages and argue that only a decrease in air travel can truly lessen the negative impact of aviation.
However, in an exclusive interview with The Independent, Shai Weiss, the CEO of Virgin Atlantic, stated: “It is extremely naive to believe that we can simply eliminate flying.”
The airline’s goal is to prove that SAF can serve as a secure alternative to traditional jet fuel, and can be used with current aircraft engines, structures, and fuel systems.
According to Sir Richard, people tend to believe that certain tasks are impossible until someone actually accomplishes them. He believes that the key to progress is taking risks and striving to improve for the greater good.
“Since 1984, Virgin Atlantic has continuously challenged the norms and advocated for improvements in the aviation industry. Even after almost four decades, their pioneering attitude remains at the core of their operations, driving advancements such as carbon fibre aircraft and sustainable fuel initiatives.”
“I am incredibly proud to be a part of Flight100 today, working alongside the teams at Virgin Atlantic and our partners. Together, we have been diligently working towards creating a flight path for the reduction of carbon emissions in long-haul aviation.”
Mr Harper said: “Today’s 100 per cent SAF-powered flight shows how we can decarbonise transport both now and in the future, cutting lifecycle emissions by 70 per cent and inspiring the next generation of solutions.
The current administration has approved the flight scheduled for today and we will continue to aid the development of the UK’s Sustainable Aviation Fuel industry, which will result in job creation, economic growth, and achieving Jet Zero.
Environmental activists argue that the advantages of SAF are exaggerated and that there are several issues with the availability of the fuel.
According to Anna Hughes, the director of Flight Free UK, the concept of using 100% SAF as fuel for flights may sound promising, but it will still take many years before these so-called “sustainable” fuels become widely utilized.
Our available resources are insufficient to produce the necessary amount of SAF to meet our present and future flight demands. As we cannot afford to wait, the only solution to effectively reduce flight emissions is to decrease the frequency of flights, which may not be well-received by the industry.
“This marks a crucial moment for both the industry and government, giving them the opportunity to ignore the fact that our current level of air travel has negative consequences for the environment. The truth is, we have not yet found a viable solution to significantly decrease the environmental impact of flying. Therefore, in the short-term, the solution must be to greatly reduce the amount of air travel we engage in.”
A year ago, the initial SAF-fueled flight of a British airplane occurred. The RAF Voyager, a military variant of the Airbus A330, completed a trial flight from Brize Norton in Oxfordshire.