Virgin Atlantic To Operate 100 Percent SAF Trans-Atlantic Flight


If three other countries agree, a Virgin Atlantic flight will cross the pond from Heathrow to JFK using only sustainable aviation fuel on Nov. 28. ┬áThe U.K.’s Civil Aviation Administration has approved the flight, citing numerous tests and studies that indicate SAF is a safe and more climate-friendly alternative to Jet A. “As the U.K.’s aviation regulator, it’s important that we safely enable the industry to embrace more sustainable practices and push the boundaries of what’s possible to create a greener aviation industry,” CAA chief executive Rob Bishton said.

The airline will use a Boeing 787 powered by Trent 1000 engines on the flight, and the CAA spent a month running SAF on a test bed engine. The CAA is also partially funding the program. For the flight to proceed, the CAA and Virgin have to convince Ireland, Canada and the U.S., all of which will host the Dreamliner in their airspace, that the flight will be safe. Current rules allow a maximum 50/50 mix of SAF and jet fuel for commercial flights, and specific permission to waive that requirement will be necessary. Virgin Atlantic CEO Simon Weiss says he has no doubts that SAF will be successful and urged the government to foster the development of an SAF supply chain in the U.K. “We know that if we can make it, we can fly it,” Weiss told a news conference on Monday.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. It’s either compliant or it’s not…

    I find it disturbing that it’s seen as morally and ethically laudable to test technologies on the involuntarily participating public as long as the end goal aligns with the correct viewpoint. Trampling environmental impact reviews in pursuit of alternative energy, driverless cars tested on public roads without safety drivers and for this, a planeload of paying customers who I am guessing will not be given the option to avoid the test.

    I have no objection to the introduction of greener tech, only that it jumps all the same regulatory hurdles with the same integrity as other less virtuous tech.

    Extending the logic, I expect the loosening of paying passenger restrictions for all experimental acft types proven with engineering reviews, fleet hours and a month of testing.

    • My thoughts exactly. I would assume the lawyers for Virgin are having a fit. What does their insurance carrier have to say? Will their be full disclosure in advance for the paying public?

      Additionally, is SAF really all that more climate friendly or is it just virtuous because it isn’t derived from the evil fossil fuel industry?

      • In the “NORMAL” aviation world, certifying national officials require extensive tests–WITHOUT PAYING PASSENGERS. This publicity stunt makes a mockery of the careful procedures used for years in certifying aircraft, parts, fuels, and procedures–all in the name of “Political Correctness.”

        What NEXT–“Flights crewed 100% by pilots with medical waivers?” “Aircraft maintained 100% by mechanics that have prison records?” “Air traffic control towers manned 100% by dyslectic controllers?” ALL IN THE NAME OF POLITICAL CORRECTNESS.

        The FAA requires a passenger warning on homebuilt aircraft and light sport aircraft, (AC 45-4) stating that “THIS AIRCRAFT WAS MANUFACTURED IN ACCORDANCE WITH (Light Sport/Experimental) AIRWORTHINESS STANDARDS AND DOES NOT CONFORM TO STANDARD CATEGORY AIRWORTHINESS REQUIREMENTS.”

        Perhaps the FAA should require the airline seeking publicity to display that warning on the ticket each passenger buys–and at each seat. I would avoid an airline that puts publicity and “PC Correctness” over passenger safety.

  2. There is no question that, properly manufactured, SAF is equal to, and in some ways, superior to petroleum jet (eg. zero residual sulfur). The question is not whether SAF is safe to use at 100%, but whether the world can produce enough SAF to make a dent in jet fuel consumption. Also, can they do so without competing with food crops for land use? I wouldn’t be too concerned about using paying passengers as lab rats for the SAF flights. All of the airlines and the various FAA equivalents in other countries have been testing the fuel’s viability for a long time. I’m sure that Virgin Atlantic will make a lot of hoopla and press coverage about this project for good PR coverage.

  3. Completely agree about scale and competition for resources i.e. more land cleared (more rainforest burned anyone?) and water consumed vs food production…it’s a “do something” sideshow.

    My point on demonstration waiver with paying pax is that there are many experimental aircraft (exhibition, homebuilt, etc) that could say the same thing in ref to demonstrated safety, but since we’re not wrapped in the same virtuous cause, no regulations will be waived in our case…and I see this shortcut repeated for many other issues as long as the cause justifying is gathering “righteous” campaign donations and votes.