The UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has granted Virgin Atlantic a permit for an unprecedented transatlantic flight powered solely by sustainable aviation fuels (SAF). The CAA revealed the authorisation for the forthcoming flight from London to New York, scheduled for November 28, after successful technical assessments of the British airline’s proposal, supported by a consortium of prominent companies including Boeing, Rolls-Royce, BP and others.
The aviation industry is under scrutiny for its significant contributions to carbon dioxide and non-CO2 emissions, which exacerbate climate change. Airlines are increasingly turning to SAF, a biofuel with lower carbon emissions compared to traditional jet fuel, as a means to decarbonise the sector. However, they have cautioned that this transition will be gradual and costly, potentially leading to higher ticket prices and slower passenger demand growth.
Rob Bishton, CEO of the CAA, stressed the regulator’s role in facilitating the aviation industry’s adoption of sustainable practices and pushing the boundaries to create a more eco-friendly aviation sector. “This permit not only allows Virgin Atlantic and others to showcase their commitment to sustainability but also serves as an example of how the industry is continually exploring new technologies,” Bishton remarked.
The CAA’s authorisation enables Virgin Atlantic to proceed with the application process with aviation authorities in the United States, Ireland and Canada since the flight will traverse the airspace of each of these countries.
The UK regulator conducted a comprehensive analysis of various aspects of the planned flight, including ground testing with Rolls-Royce on a Trent 1000 engine running on 100% SAF.
This initiative, partially funded by the UK government, aims to test and demonstrate the feasibility of powering aircraft with sustainable fuels, as per the CAA’s statement.
In an effort to support this transition, the UK government allocated up to £1 million (US$1.2 million) to Virgin Atlantic in December of last year to assist the industry in achieving the world’s first transatlantic flight powered entirely by SAF.
Virgin Atlantic CEO Shai Weiss emphasised the importance of radical collaboration across consortium partners and the government to reach this milestone. He also reaffirmed the airline’s commitment to utilising 10 percent SAF by 2030 and urged the government to aid in establishing a UK SAF industry.