Preliminary figures from Virgin Atlantic’s transatlantic Boeing 787-9 flight using 100% wholly-sustainable fuel indicate that it cut carbon and particulate emissions by 64% and 40% respectively, based on a lifecycle analysis.

The flight, from London Heathrow to New York JFK on 28 November last year, also resulted in a 1% improvement in fuel-burn efficiency, with the sustainable fuel delivering more energy compared with the same mass of fossil fuel.

“We have demonstrated that it can be done,” said Virgin Atlantic chief executive Shai Weiss, as the carrier and the consortium of partners involved in the flight disclosed initial findings.

“Sustainable aviation fuel is a safe drop-in replacement for fossil fuel and can be used with today’s infrastructure.”

The carrier says the release of initial results will be followed by a technical “deep dive” on 3 June to analyse the effort more closely and share information.

Virgin Flight100-c-Virgin Atlantic

Source: Virgin Atlantic

Designated ‘Flight100’, the 787 flew with wholly-sustainable fuel from Heathrow to JFK

Virgin Atlantic adds that the flight saved 2.2t of fuel – about 4% of its overall fuel-burn – through operational efficiencies including direct routing and reduced taxi time, lowering emissions.

But Weiss says that the benefits of sustainable aviation fuel will only have a significant influence if production is scaled up by a factor of 100, in order to meet targets of 10% SAF use 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,” he states.

The flight was a “pivotal moment”, adds Virgin Atlantic founder Richard Branson, but “not a silver bullet”.

Virgin’s flight resulted from co-operation over the course of more than a year with companies including Rolls-Royce – whose Trent 1000 engines powered the 787 – as well as Boeing, Imperial College London, the University of Sheffield, ICF and Rocky Mountain Institute.