If enough SAF is made, we will fly it

  • Headline Flight100 results pave the way for the use of 100% Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF), proving it’s a safe drop-in replacement for fossil fuel
  • The use of 100% SAF saved the lifecycle equivalent of 95 tonnes of CO2 or 64% of the emissions of a standard London Heathrow to New York JFK flight
  • SAF has potential benefits beyond a reduction in lifecycle CO2, including a 40% reduction in particulates which could contribute to a significant reduction in contrail production. The higher energy density of SAF - shown to be up to 1% compared to fossil fuel in Flight100 - can also contribute to increased fuel efficiency and further emissions reductions
  • SAF is the only viable mid-term solution to decarbonise long haul aviation, it needs to be produced at scale. UK Government must now urgently match its ambition with action by investing in a revenue certainty mechanism to support the creation of a UK SAF industry

Virgin Atlantic has shared headline results from Flight100, the first transatlantic flight on 100% 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 CO2, but can also improve local air quality, contribute to a reduction on persistent contrail formation and reduce fuel use.

Flight100, which flew from London Heathrow to New York JFK on 28 November 2023, was the world’s first commercial aircraft operating across the Atlantic on 100% 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.

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 part funded by Department for Transport and approved by the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and other regulators including the US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA).

Today, the consortium published headline results from the flight including:

  • A full lifecycle analysis – showing a saving of 95 tonnes of CO2, or 64% of the emissions produced from a standard flight from London Heathrow to New York JFK. That’s the equivalent of 54 cars off road for a year, or the energy consumption of 33 UK homes
  • Additional benefits of SAF beyond carbon reductions – with a 40% reduction in non-CO2 particulate 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% 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% of overall fuel burn, which if applied to every Virgin Atlantic flight for a year would be enough fuel saved to fill 24 Olympic sized swimming pools
  • 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, industry must continue to radically collaborate for aviation to use SAF on all flights globally. Following the release of the headline results, a consortium led technical deep dive will take place on 3 June 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 £2bn of economic value for the UK by 2030.

Virgin Atlantic 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 on the development of SAF at scale.

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.”


About Virgin Atlantic

Virgin Atlantic was founded by entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson in 1984, with innovation and amazing customer service at its core. In 2023, Virgin Atlantic was voted Britain’s only Global Five Star Airline by APEX for the seventh year running in the Official Airline Ratings. Headquartered in London, it employs more than 8,500 people worldwide, flying customers to 30 destinations across four continents throughout the year.  

Alongside shareholder and Joint Venture partner Delta Air Lines, Virgin Atlantic operates a leading transatlantic network, with onward connections to over 200 cities around the world. In February 2020, Air France-KLM, Delta Air Lines and Virgin Atlantic launched an expanded Joint Venture, offering a comprehensive route network, convenient flight schedules, competitive fares and reciprocal frequent flyer benefits, including the ability to earn and redeem miles across all carriers.  Virgin Atlantic joined SkyTeam in March 2023 as the global airline alliance’s first and only UK member airline, enhancing the alliance’s transatlantic network and services to and from Heathrow and Manchester Airport.    

Virgin Atlantic has been pioneering sustainability leadership for more than 15 years, committing to Net Zero by 2050 and continuous action that reduces environmental impact.  The airline operates one of the youngest and most fuel-efficient fleets in the skies, with an average age under seven years. In October 2022, Virgin Atlantic welcomed the first of 16 A330-900neos to the fleet, continuing its transformation towards 100% next generation aircraft by 2028.  In November 2023, the airline led a consortium to deliver the world’s first flight across the Atlantic on 100% Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF), demonstrating that 100% SAF can be used safely as a drop in fuel in existing infrastructure, engines and airframes. The need to scale production is an industry imperative and Virgin Atlantic is committed to radical collaboration across the energy chain to support commercialisation ahead of 2030.   

For more information visit www.virginatlantic.com or via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @virginatlantic.