Saturday, May 25, 2024

Virgin Atlantic’s Flight100 saved 95 tonnes of CO2

Virgin Atlantic recently announced the results of Flight100, the world’s first transatlantic flight powered by 100% Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF). The flight, which took place on November 28, 2023, from London’s Heathrow to New York’s JFK airport, was operated by a Boeing 787 using Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engines

The SAF used in the flight was found to be safe for existing infrastructure, resulting in significant reductions in CO2 emissions while improving local air quality. Additionally, the use of SAF was found to contribute to a reduction in persistent contrail formation and fuel use.

Flight100 was the world’s first commercial aircraft operating across the Atlantic on 100% SAF. The flight did not require any engine, airframe, or fuel infrastructure changes and operated on safety standards equivalent to every other commercial flight. 

The successful flight was the culmination of over a year of collaboration between a consortium led by Virgin Atlantic, which included Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Imperial College London, University of Sheffield, ICF, and Rocky Mountain Institute. The project was part-funded by the Department for Transport and was approved by the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and other regulatory bodies, including the US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA). 

The consortium recently released the headline results from its flight, which included a full lifecycle analysis showing a remarkable 95-tonne reduction in CO2 emissions. This represents a 64% decrease from the emissions produced by a standard flight from London Heathrow to New York JFK, equivalent to taking 54 cars off the road for a year or the energy consumption of 33 UK homes. 

In addition to the carbon reduction benefits of SAF, the flight also showcased a 40% decrease in non-CO2 particulate emissions. This finding suggests that the use of SAF could significantly improve local air quality at airports and reduce the formation of persistent contrails. These results demonstrate the potential for SAF to revolutionize the aviation industry while reducing its environmental impact.

The Flight100 SAF has demonstrated an impressive 1% increase in energy production per unit compared to fossil fuel. This improvement in fuel burn efficiency leads to a reduction in fuel consumption, resulting in further environmental benefits. Additionally, Virgin Atlantic’s operational efficiencies, such as direct routing and reduced taxi time, have resulted in a saving of 2.2 tonnes of jet fuel, which accounts for 4% of overall fuel burn.

If implemented across all Virgin Atlantic flights for a year, the fuel saved would be enough to fill 24 Olympic-sized swimming pools. Furthermore, the ongoing work by RMI’s Contrail Impact Task Force to verify contrail forecasting models could lead to operational measures that reduce contrail formation and mitigate their climate impact. Overall, these initiatives and advancements in fuel efficiency represent a significant step towards achieving a more sustainable aviation industry.

The success of Flight100 has paved the way for the aviation industry to collaborate more radically toward using Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) on all flights globally. To continue this momentum, a consortium-led technical deep dive will be held on 3 June 2024, following the release of the headline results. This further step ensures open-source information sharing, a crucial element of the project.

However, technical, operational, and regulatory advancements alone are not sufficient. Policy evolution is also necessary. The UK Government must match ambition with action by implementing its SAF mandate and investing in a revenue certainty mechanism to create a UK SAF industry, 10,000 jobs, and nearly £2bn of economic value by 2030.

Virgin Atlantic is committed to finding more sustainable ways to fly, taking action at every stage of the journey. With one of the youngest and most fuel and carbon-efficient fleets in the sky, Flight100 builds on the airline’s 15-year track record of leading the development of SAF at scale.