World’s first ‘net zero’ transatlantic flight to take to the skies in 2023

(CNN) — Virgin Atlantic plans to operate a Boeing 787 exclusively powered by waste oils and fats from London to New York, and this is hailed as a step towards reducing aviation’s significant environmental impact.

Launched as the “world’s first” net-zero transatlantic flight, the aircraft will take to the skies in 2023, fully fueled by what is known as sustainable aviation fuel.

The UK government, which is funding the project, has claimed in a statement that the transatlantic flight will be completely net zero in terms of carbon output due to SAF, offsetting any emissions through “biochar credits” – payments. supporting the use of an energy process that results in the safe storage of carbon.

While the flight is seen as a step in the right direction for aviation, it will do little to win over critics, who say similar one-off projects are more aimed at clearing the conscience of passengers. They say the air industry is trying to give the impression that it is on the verge of full sustainability, rather than the 2005 goal of halving emissions levels by 2050, and that the use of SAF can still have environmental consequences.

In a statement announcing the flight, Virgin Atlantic CEO Shari Weiss suggested that the “research and results” of the pioneering 2023 flight will be a major step forward in fast-tracking the use of SAF in the aviation industry and will support the investment, collaboration and urgency needed for production. PURE at scale.”

Virgin Atlantic has yet to confirm when the flight will take place, but has announced that it will be within the next year.

More sustainable flight

SAF is not a new invention — in fact, it’s been around since 2011, and IATA data says that since then, more than 450,000 flights have taken to the skies, supported at least in part by SAF.

Despite the potential to reduce the environmental impact of aircraft, the use of SAF is still limited due to production and regulatory concerns.

“There is currently no real business case for the industry to invest in this,” Andreas Schafer, professor of energy and transport at University College London, told CNN Travel in early 2022.

Still, one of the key advantages of the SAF is that it can be used on pre-existing aircraft (such as Virgin’s 787) with little need for expensive modifications.

“This is critical and very beneficial for the aviation industry because there is no need to invest in new infrastructure or new aircraft, and it’s great for airports as well as they can use the same storage and refueling infrastructure – from that perspective, SAF is excellent,” said Schafer.

Virgin Atlantic’s upcoming flight also included aircraft manufacturer Boeing and engine manufacturer Rolls-Royce.

Virgin’s 787 is powered by Rolls-Royce’s Trent 1000 engines, previously proven to fly on a mix of SAF and conventional jet fuel.

“By the end of 2023, we will have proven that our entire Trent engine family and commercial aviation engines are 100% SAF compliant,” said Rachel Everard, Rolls-Royce Head of Sustainability.

Other high-profile SAF tests have been performed recently. In March 2022, an Airbus flew an A380 powered by SAF for three hours. In 2021, United Airlines flew one of its SAF-supported planes from Chicago to Washington.

Top photo of a Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 by Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images

CNN’s Jacopo Prisco contributed to this report

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *