Sad to say that the much-hyped Virgin Atlantic flight from London’s Heathrow Airport to New York JFK was in truth of little consequence.
That is not to say it was of no value, but the UK government line is that Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) will not be available in significant quantities until 2050. We wish him well, but even Sir Richard Branson (73) is not likely to be around at that time.
Supply continues to be a major problem, with SAF currently contributing less than 0.1% of all aviation fuel globally. Scaling up production will be key. Just to get to a target of 10% by 2030 will require a hundred-fold increase. At a recent conference (see Airlines 2023 in this month's TNU) BA boss Sean Doyle put it very bluntly, but did not gain coverage. “We’re struggling just to get the ball rolling and getting plants built”, he said.
Since winning the competition to operate the flight in November 2022, Virgin Atlantic and its partners have been beavering away to make it a reality, but also to ensure that the flight would be as safe as any other commercial flight. The Department for Transport, which kicked off the challenge, provided £1 million in funding which Virgin matched.
The fuel used was a specific blend of two different types of SAF in order to create what is called a ‘drop in’ fuel.
This meant that no modifications were needed to the Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engined aircraft.
As a very serious scientific exercise the flight was a great success and all parties should be congratulated. But don’t expect to be flying on kitchen waste in the near future.
See also Virgin Atlantic flies on cooking fat in this month’s TNU.
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