Virgin and Rolls-Royce set date for world’s first 100% SAF transatlantic flight

A Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft flying
Virgin Atlantic

Virgin Atlantic and Rolls-Royce have set the date for the world’s first 100% Sustainable Air Fuel (SAF) transatlantic flight.  

The date has been set following completion of the SAF blend ground test on the Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engine. 

On November 28, 2023, a hand-picked Virgin Boeing 787 Dreamliner will set off from London-Heathrow Airport (LHR) to New York John F. Kennedy Airport (JFK) powered by SAF.  

In the announcement on July 20, 2023, it was also confirmed that Air bp and Virent will supply the 60 tons of SAF to be used during the flight, as well as used for research and testing.  

The SAF will be produced through the Hydroprocessed Esters and Fatty Acids (HEFA) pathway as well as synthetic aromatic kerosene (SAK) SAF at an 88% and 12% blend ratio. 

Virgin said that through “radical collaboration” the aviation industry can deliver 100% SAF for long-haul flights.  

However, the airline also called on the sector to go even further and “develop a UK SAF industry and meet aviation’s 10% SAF by 2030”. 

“The 100% Sustainable Aviation Fuel transatlantic flight will be a historic moment in aviation’s roadmap to decarbonization. Alongside fleet transformation, SAF is the most readily available way for our industry to decarbonize, 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% SAF – if we make it, we can fly it,” Shai Weiss, CEO of Virgin Atlantic said. 

The Virgin Atlantic-led consortium, joint funded by the UK Department for Transport, includes Rolls-Royce, Boeing, University of Sheffield, Imperial College London and Rocky Mountain Institute.  

The successful bench engine test is a key milestone, however further permissions and safety approvals are required for the flight to take off in November.   

“We are incredibly proud that our Trent 1000 engines will power the first ever flight using 100% Sustainable Aviation Fuel across the Atlantic. Confirming that we have successfully completed the ground test of the Trent 1000 engine today, using the chosen 100% SAF blend, gives us increased confidence for the engine’s performance and operation ahead of the flight this November. The flight will represent an incredible milestone for the entire aviation industry in its journey towards net zero carbon emissions,” Rob Watson, president of Civil Aerospace at Rolls-Royce said.  

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