Virgin Atlantic to operate historic net zero transatlantic flight

Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner
Virgin Atlantic
Natalie Clarkson
by Natalie Clarkson
16 December 2022

The world’s first net zero transatlantic flight will take off from the UK in 2023, with Virgin Atlantic set to fly one of its Boeing 787 aircraft from London to New York using solely sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).

The airline has received UK government funding for the flight to show how SAF could replace conventional jet fuel. It will work with a consortium that includes Rolls-Royce, Boeing, Pratt & Whitney Canada, Imperial College London, University of Sheffield, RMI, and ICF. When fully replacing kerosene, SAF can slash lifecycle carbon emissions by more than 70%, compared to conventional fossil jet fuel.

Virgin Atlantic’s flight is expected to be fuelled by SAF made primarily from waste oils and fats, such as used cooking oil. The use of 100% SAF on the flight, combined with carbon removal through biochar credits – a material that traps and stores carbon taken from the atmosphere – will make the flight net zero.

Shai Weiss (CEO of Virgin Atlantic), Baroness Vere, Sir Michael Arthur (Vice President, Boeing) and Rachael Everard (Head of Sustainability, Rolls Royce)
Virgin Atlantic

Not only will SAF play a key role in decarbonising aviation, it could also create a UK industry with an annual turnover of £2.4 billion by 2040 – and which supports up to 5,200 jobs in the UK by 2035.

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.

“Not only will this flight pave the way for future generations, but it will demonstrate just how much we can achieve when we work together on a shared goal – bringing together some of the best businesses and academics in the world and led by a British airline.”

A Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft
Virgin Atlantic

Shai Weiss, Virgin Atlantic CEO, added: “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.

“This challenge recognises the critical role that SAF has to play in decarbonising aviation and the urgent collective action needed to scale production and use of SAF globally. The research and results will be a huge step in fast tracking SAF use across the aviation industry and support the investment, collaboration and urgency needed to produce SAF at scale. Our collective ambition of Net Zero by 2050 depends on it.”

Aviation is one of the hardest sectors to decarbonise, and without urgent, collaborative action it could be one of the highest emitting sectors for greenhouse gases by 2050. Virgin Atlantic has long been committed to transitioning to a more sustainable future. In 2018, Virgin Atlantic flew the first ever commercial flight using LanzaTech’s sustainable jet fuel.

Visit Virgin Atlantic to find out more.