Virgin Completes 100 Percent SAF Flight


A Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 became the first airliner to cross the Atlantic using 100 percent sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) on Tuesday, but it will make the return flight on Jet A. The Dreamliner touched down at JFK after an uneventful flight from Heathrow, but Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson did his best to make it an event. He told reporters on the ramp at Heathrow the flight was intended to put a spotlight on making aviation more climate friendly and to send a message to fuel producers that customers like him are anxious to have alternatives to fossil fuels. “The world will always assume something can’t be done, until you do it,” Branson, who was joined by politicians, journalists, business and government officials on the flight, told media. There were no paying passengers onboard and Virgin needed a waiver from the British government to operate the flight because current rules limit the use of SAF to a maximum 50-50 blend with Jet A.

Climate activists dismissed the flight, which was funded in part by a $1.27 million grant from the U.K. government, as a meaningless stunt. “The idea that this flight somehow gets us closer to guilt-free flying is a joke,” said Cait Hewitt, policy director for the Aviation Environment Federation, told the Associated Press. She said SAF is “around 0.1 percent of aviation fuel globally and will be very hard to scale up sustainably.” The fuel used in the 787 had to be tweaked a little before it could be safely used. It was derived mainly from used cooking oil and waste animal fat, but SAF lacks aromatics present in petroleum that are necessary for proper operation of the engines.  “Synthetic aromatic kerosene” made from plant sugars had to be added to SAF to ensure safety, according to the Washington Post.

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.


  1. Why are we (Branson et al) compelled to demonstrate a spin of reality which is not even 50% correct? What did he achieve? In whose eyes?

  2. SAF mandate for IATA is :
    The mandate is expected to start in 2025 with a minimum volume of SAF at 2%, increasing in five-year intervals to ultimately reach a minimum volume of 63% in 2050, of which 28% would consist of synthetic aviation fuels. All airlines departing from EU airports will be obliged to uplift jet fuel prior to departure

  3. “The fuel used in the 787 had to be tweaked a little before it could be safely used. It was derived mainly from used cooking oil and waste animal fat, but SAF lacks aromatics present in petroleum that are necessary for proper operation of the engines. “Synthetic aromatic kerosene” made from plant sugars had to be added to SAF to ensure safety, according to the Washington Post.”
    What a joke! LOL

  4. The “activist” quoted gave the game away – “guilt-free flying”. Which in essence is typical of the current crop of control-mongering agitators politely called “activists”: “Those people over there are doing something I don’t like so they should be prohibited from doing it.” Sorry, activists, but just because you assign “guilt” to others does not require those others to accept your opinion. Mind your own business – if you have any business that does not require other persons, places, or things at which you choose to point your fingers. If not, then just go away.

  5. A few questions for the “climate activists” who think we should feel guilty flying on airliners.. do they use electricity, cars, trains, buses, boats, home heat and everything else fossil fuels power in our modern civilization?

    We all know the answer but they are blinded by their quasi religious cult and “saving the planet” provides meaning in their lives that is apparently lacking otherwise. The climate has always changed and always will and human caused CO2 emissions is a minuscule part of it.

    As for me and my wife we be happily boarding a United flight in a few weeks flying to South America for a 18 day ocean cruise around Cape Horn. We will be enjoying and living life as well as supporting jobs, spreading human prosperity and flourishing while spending our hard earn dollars, will we be feeling guilty about that? Not so much.

    • You sir have exactly the right frame of mind. Live life going forward. If in fact the Earths warming cycle can be controlled by man we will find a solution. Going backward in a standard of living is not the solution I will accept.

      • We have found the solution, it’s been clear for decades. The only way out of this is to reduce our global emissions. Lifestyle changes will inevitably be required.

        • We haven’t found the solution at all. We don’t even know what the problem is, or even if there is one. “Reducing Global Emmissions” is just a fuzzy-wuzzy vacuous suitably vapourous nonsensical buzz-phrase trotted out by virtue-signalling wanna-be seen to be woke environmentalists…
          So, these “Lifestyle Changes” you posit – what are they? Carbon emmissions? Well how far back do you want to go? If you’re talking “zero carbon emissions” then how about pre-discovery-of-fire cave dwelling hunter-gatherers? No, wait, they killed animals to survive…we’de have to be vegitarians, and the planet can only sustain a small number of those to to the land area required to grow food – no pesticides or growth accelerators, remember…
          I live in the country, where it is currently minus 8 degrees. I can heat my home and my wife using oil, coal or wood. Electricity is generated using one of those, so let’s not go there. There is no mains gas (demonic energy that it is…)
          How do you suggest I keep my wife warm? And my workshop where I employ 6 people earning a living in the depths of winter?
          I have no issue with humanity cleaning up our act, but may I propose that what’s needed are not “lifestyle changes” foisted on the majority of people by a minority not-real-world ideology, but much rather “technology changes” that create the means to sustain the direction, not simply destroy what we have now when there are no viable alternatives. And that only when the problem (if there is one) has been sufficiently identified. Which it hasn’t…
          Kindly, Michael.

  6. There a few giant omissions from the report (a real reporter would have addressed these questions):
    1 – How much does this stuff cost per gallon (not including taxpayer subsidies and other “grants”)?
    2 – Who paid for the $1.27 million grant? Taxpayers? Will taxpayers be forever subsidizing SAF?
    3 – How many acres of corn (or other food crop) will be needed to provide the “plant sugars” necessary for mass production of SAF? Is that really sustainable?
    4 – How many additional McDonalds restaurants will we need to build to provide the necessary “used cooking oil and waste animal fat” for mass production of SAF. Is that really sustainable?

    This is drive away from fossil fuels is forced by self-described “environmentalists”. An environmental activist is a Marxist who slept through 4th-grade science, doesn’t care about economics, refuses to see the fossil fuel in everything he/she/it sees, and won’t do the math.

  7. Good report, Russ. Shows even the policy director for the Aviation Environment Federation concerned with climate activism sees this flight for what it is.

    The 4 questions from Mr. Nay, which have no place in the news story, are for an in-depth analysis, perhaps a blog. A real poster would have caught that.

    “Sustainable aviation fuel, which reduces greenhouse gas emissions by about 70 per cent, is the best near-term way for the international aviation industry to achieve its net zero target by 2050, the U.S. Energy Department said.”
    Whatever the results end up being, keep on keeping on, and all the good people working toward clean air and water with NASA Global Climate Change and so many other professional scientific organizations, working in the realm of global scientific consensus on climate.

    Climate activists are the real conservatives. They should be applauded, and we should be inspired by them. Climate abusers, deniers, haters and criminals of the law are the real radicals. These name-calling, finger pointing myopic dullards will witness change only when their focus moves off of their own self-importance to a greater understanding of humanity with all of its struggles, and greatness.

  8. All the naysayers just complain complain complain. Look who knows so much. Changes are necessary even if these initial attempts are just a starting point. Same thing in the EV industry.

      • Although the climate change isn’t, undoubtedly, caused only, or in a large percentage, by humans, the case is that those humans must take steps to help that change to became more and more visible. But BIG STEPS, not only small steps or steps starting from small points. So, the engineers must concentrate their efforts in producing energy from cold fusion and have budgets that support their studies in that matter. I’m sure sooner than expected, a big step would be made. Let’s face the difficult tasks, just because they are difficult.

  9. First – though I have no professional opinion on SAF, please – it’s not about guilt – let’s banish this concept.

    Second, for people involved in an avocation (such as aviation) that is 100% based on science, it’s surprising to see so much denial of science.

    CO2 traps heat in the atmosphere by turning infrared radiation (IR) from the sun-warmed surface of the earth into molecular vibration of CO2 molecules. This contrasts w/N2 & O2, through which IR passes.

    Yes, decaying organic matter, etc., contribute most of the atmosphere’s heat trapping power, necessary for life on earth, and plants pump the atmospheric CO2 levels up and down from winter to summer every year. However, the heat-trapping power of CO2 in the atmosphere from the combustion of carbon-containing substances is significant.

    Prior to the industrial revolution, avg. atmospheric CO2 was ~280 ppm. Currently, we are at ~420 ppm.

    Please AV community, just as the Wrights used science to understand how to create powered aircraft, let’s use science when we talk about the climate.