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The future of flight takes off as Virgin airliner crosses Atlantic powered by sustainable fuel

The future of flight takes off as Virgin airliner crosses Atlantic powered by sustainable fuel

- Transport Secretary takes to the sky in world’s first 100% sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) transatlantic flight by a commercial airline, made possible by up to £1 million of UK government funding

- This historic event is a huge step towards Jet Zero – helping people travel sustainably while creating jobs and helping to grow the UK economy

- During an official visit to the US, the Transport Secretary will show how the UK is a global leader in transport innovation, including SAF and automated vehicles

One of Virgin Atlantic’s Boeing 787s took off for a world-first flight from London Heathrow to JFK International Airport, New York today (28 November 2023) powered by 100% sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).

The Transport Secretary travelled on the flight alongside Virgin Atlantic Chief Executive Shai Weiss and Virgin’s founder, Sir Richard Branson, making them the first commercial airline to fly across the pond without the use of any fossil-based jet fuel.


Today’s flight is a major milestone towards making air travel more environmentally friendly as we move towards our goal of net zero by 2050. The historic trip is powered by SAF made from waste fats that cannot enter the food chain. Repurposing waste products into jet fuel to cut emissions provides the most immediate solution to help decarbonise our skies. 

Virgin Atlantic and their consortium were awarded up to £1 million of UK government funding in December 2022, following a challenge from the Department for Transport to support the industry in achieving the first transatlantic flight on a commercial aircraft powered by 100% SAF. The funding has played a vital role in supporting the testing of today’s fuel and the flight’s operational delivery to make this a reality. It will also provide an opportunity to generate important data that will accelerate SAF approval and boost our understanding of its efficiency.

SAF has a greenhouse gas emissions reduction of around 70% when compared against standard jet fuel over its life cycle – allowing greener travel and keeping the UK connected to the world.

With the world about to convene in Dubai COP28 this week, today lays down a marker that the UK is already taking action when it comes to tackling the decarbonisation challenges that face the transport sector.

Transport Secretary, Mark Harper, said:

Today’s historic flight, powered by 100% sustainable aviation fuel, shows how we can both decarbonise transport and enable passengers to keep flying when and where they want.

This government has backed today’s flight to take-off and we will continue to support the UK’s emerging SAF industry as it creates jobs, grows the economy and gets us to Jet Zero.

SAF will become an increasing part of the standard jet fuel mix, driven by our upcoming SAF mandate, with at least 10% of jet fuel being from sustainable sources in 2030. This will mean that business or leisure travellers can fly knowing their carbon footprint will be lower than ever before.

Sir Richard Branson, Founder, Virgin Atlantic, said:
The world will always assume something can’t be done, until you do it. The spirit of innovation is getting out there and trying to prove that we can do things better for everyone’s benefit. Virgin Atlantic has been challenging the status quo and pushing the aviation industry to never settle and do better since 1984.

Fast forward nearly 40 years, that pioneering spirit continues to be Virgin Atlantic’s beating heart as it pushes the boundaries from carbon fibre aircraft and fleet upgrades to sustainable fuels. I couldn’t be prouder to be onboard Flight100 today alongside the teams at Virgin Atlantic and our partners, which have been working together to set the flight path for the decarbonisation of long-haul aviation.

Shai Weiss, Chief Executive Officer, Virgin Atlantic, said:

Flight100 proves that sustainable aviation fuel can be used as a safe, drop-in replacement for fossil-derived jet fuel and it’s the only viable solution for decarbonising long-haul aviation. It’s taken radical collaboration to get here and we’re proud to have reached this important milestone, but we need to push further.

There’s simply not enough SAF and it’s clear that in order to reach production at scale, we need to see significantly more investment. This will only happen when regulatory certainty and price support mechanisms are in place. Flight100 proves that if you make it, we’ll fly it.

Today’s flight shows the future of flying, following in the footsteps of John Alcock and Arthur Brown, who flew the first non-stop transatlantic flight in 1919, opening the eyes of the world to the potential of long-haul air travel. 

This landmark moment is another step towards cleaner skies after we announced the second round of the Advanced Fuels Fund on 17 November 2023. This saw 9 projects receive £53 million to help scale up the UK SAF production industry, leading the global charge towards making these fuels more readily available. Increasing the supply for operators, making it cheaper and providing reassurance for industry that the UK is the world leader in decarbonising aviation backs our commitment of having 5 SAF commercial plants to be in construction by 2025. 

The flight to the US will also provide the Transport Secretary with the opportunity to showcase the UK’s progress in the future of transport. Promoting the UK’s work on SAF, the Transport Secretary will co-chair a SAF Investor Summit in New York to further unlock private investment to build a sustainable aviation sector that creates jobs in the UK and boosts the economy. Investing in SAF is key to helping scale up the industry, similar to the International Airlines Group (IAG), which recently invested in UK SAF production company Nova Pangaea Technologies, something we aim to mimic with US investors.

The Transport Secretary will then travel to San Francisco to meet with US Automated Vehicles operators, seeing how the UK can become a new global hub for developing self-driving cars – fully seizing the opportunities enabled by our recently announced Automated Vehicles Bill. The trip will provide valuable insight into a high-growth industry which, in the UK, could create 38,000 jobs in a market worth £42 billion by 2035.

BY Justin Cooke Editor in Chief