History At 38,000 Feet: World’s First Flight Powered By 100 Per Cent Sustainable Aviation Fuel Crosses The Atlantic Ocean


For the first time ever, a commercial plane flew across the Atlantic Ocean without using fossil fuels.

Operated by British airline Virgin Atlantic, the Flight 100, powered only by Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF), flew from London’s Heathrow and landed at John F Kennedy International Airport on Tuesday (28 November) afternoon.

The fuel on this flight was made from waste fats and plant sugars and emits 70 per cent less carbon than petroleum-based jet fuel, according to a press release.

The SAF used on Flight100 is a unique dual blend; 88 per cent Hydroprocessed Esters and Fatty Acids (HEFA) supplied by AirBP and 12 per cent Synthetic Aromatic Kerosene (SAK) supplied by Virent, a subsidiary of Marathon Petroleum Corporation. The HEFA is made from waste fats while the SAK is made from plant sugars, with the remainder of plant proteins, oil and fibres continuing into the food chain.

Marking the culmination of more than a year of radical cross industry collaboration which included some big names like Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), Imperial College London and University of Sheffield, the test flight has demonstrated the capability of SAF as a safe drop-in replacement for fossil derived jet fuel.

Sustainable Aviation Fuel, or SAF, has similar chemistry to jet fuel, but is a clean substitute for fossil jet fuels. Unlike jet fuels which is derived from crude oil, SAF is produced from renewable sources such as agricultural waste, municipal solid waste, and forestry residues.

As such, it is recognised as offering the most immediate and greatest potential in the decarbonisation of long haul aviation, and pathway to Net Zero 2050.

Virgin Atlantic’s 100 per cent SAF flight is a one-time exercise, and the airline will not regularly offer all-SAF flights. Standard jet engines are not designed to run on only sustainable fuel, and it is too expensive and rare for it to be practical for airlines to run all-SAF routes.

Experts say sustainable aviation fuels may one day play a big role in shrinking the aviation industry’s carbon footprint — even though its production is minuscule today.

Today, SAF represents less than 0.1 per cent of global jet fuel volumes and fuel standards allow for just a 50 per cent SAF blend in commercial jet engines.

Flight 100 will prove that the challenge of scaling up production is one of policy and investment, and the industry and government must move quickly to create a thriving SAF industry, noted the press release.