Virgin Atlantic has announced plans to operate the world’s first transatlantic flight using 100 per cent Sustainable Aviation Fuel later this year.

The news follows successful ground tests using a Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engine.

Pending regulatory approvals and further testing, Virgin intends to operate a flight between Heathrow and New York JFK on 28 November, using a Boeing 787 aircraft powered by 60 tonnes of SAF.

The fuel – which will be a blend of 88 per cent Hydroprocessed Esters and Fatty Acids (HEFA) and 12 per cent synthetic aromatic kerosene (SAK) – will be supplied by Air bp and Virent.

Commercial aircraft are currently limited to a maximum blend of 50 per cent SAF and 50 per cent conventional jet fuel, but several tests have been taking place to prove the viability of 100 per cent SAF operations.

Earlier this year Emirates conducted ground engine testing for one of the GE90 engines on a Boeing 777-300ER, and in 2021 Rolls-Royce completed a test flight of its B747 Flying Testbed aircraft using 100 per cent SAF.

Rolls-Royce flies B747 jumbo using 100 per cent sustainable aviation fuel (SAF)

A Virgin Atlantic led consortium – joint funded by the Department for Transport and including Rolls-Royce, Boeing, the University of Sheffield, Imperial College London and Rocky Mountain Institute – has put together dedicated project teams working on the research, testing and operations necessary to make the transatlantic flight possible.

Virgin said that the project would “demonstrate further reductions in CO2 from operational efficiencies, contribute to research and development into the non-CO2 effects of flying, and provide an end-to-end life cycle analysis of the flight”.

Commenting on the news Shai Weiss, CEO, Virgin Atlantic, said:

“The 100 per cent Sustainable Aviation Fuel transatlantic flight will be a historic moment in aviation’s roadmap to decarbonisation.

“Alongside fleet transformation, SAF is the most readily available way for our industry to decarbonise, but currently there’s not enough supply and without it and the radical collaboration required to produce it, we can’t meet our 2030 targets.

“We need UK government support to create a UK SAF industry to allow for every single flight out of the UK to operate with 100 per cent SAF – if we make it, we can fly it.”

For our recent feature looking at developments in SAF, and the challenges facing the aviation industry in scaling up its use, see:

Sustainable Aviation Fuel: In the pipeline