The UK government announced that Virgin Atlantic has won a competition to receive funding to operate the first-ever “net zero transatlantic flight,” flying from London to New York on 100% sustainable aviation fuel, planned for 2023.

Sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) is seen as one of the key tools to help decarbonize the aviation industry, which currently accounts for 2-3% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. SAF is generally produced from sustainable resources, like waste oils and agricultural residues. SAF producers estimate the fuels can generate up to 80% greenhouse gas emissions saving relative to conventional fuels.

Earlier this year, the government pledged to deliver the first-ever net-zero emissions transatlantic flight, powered by 100% sustainable aviation fuel by the end of 2023, and outlined a series of initiatives to address barriers to greater SAF use, including high fuel production costs, the need for significant investment to scale infrastructure and production, and feedstock availability.

The announcement also follows the UK government’s launch in July of “Jet Zero,” its strategy to achieve net zero aviation by 2050, and the achievement of the world’s first sustainable fuel military transporter flight using 100% SAF by the RAF last month.

UK Transport Secretary Mark Harper said: 

“For decades, flying from London to New York has symbolised aviation’s ability to connect people and drive international progress. It’s now going to be at the forefront of cutting carbon emissions from flying.”

The Virgin Atlantic flight is expected to be powered by fuel made from waste oil and fats such as used cooking oil. In order to achieve net zero status, the flight will be combined with carbon removal through biochar credits, a material which traps and stores carbon taken from the atmosphere.

Virgin said that it will work with a consortium of partners for the flight, including Rolls-Royce, Boeing, Imperial College London, University of Sheffield, Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) and ICF. The flight will be conducted on a Boeing 787s, powered by Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engines.

Shai Weiss, Virgin Atlantic CEO, said:

“As an airline founded on and committed to innovation, we’re proud to lead a cross industry consortium of partners to make aviation history by operating the first ever 100% SAF flight across the Atlantic. Virgin Atlantic’s inaugural flight in 1984 was to New York and today it continues to be one of our most popular routes. It will be an honour to pave the way for this important business and leisure route to become even more sustainable.”

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