A Virgin Atlantic passenger jet powered by 100% sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) took off from London on a flight to New York on Tuesday, as the aviation world seeks to showcase the potential of low-carbon options to secure its future.

As the world de-carbonizes, airlines are banking on fuel made from waste to reduce their emissions by up to 70%, enabling them to keep operating before electric and hydrogen-powered air travel becomes a reality in the future.

Aviation accounts for an estimated 2-3% of global carbon emissions. SAF is key toward reducing those emissions, but it’s costly, at about three to five times as much as regular jet fuel right now, and accounts for less than 0.1% of total global jet fuel in use today.

The flight, operated by a Virgin Boeing 787 powered by Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engines, is the first time a commercial airliner has flown long haul on 100% SAF.

But it is a demonstration flight, with no paying passengers or cargo, and will fly back to Britain using regular jet fuel.

Engines in commercial use are not yet certified to fly on more than 50% SAF and the vast majority of flights blend in a much lower amount of SAF with traditional jet fuel.

Richard Branson, Virgin Atlantic’s billionaire founder, the airline’s chief executive Shai Weiss, and Britain’s transport minister Mark Harper were among the passengers on board.

The flight was scheduled to arrive at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport at 2:40 p.m. EST.

Dubbed by Virgin as Flight100, it comes days before the start of COP28 climate talks in Dubai on Thursday and follows the successful transatlantic crossing by a Gulfstream G600 business jet using the same fuel last week.

SAF is already used in jet engines as part of a blend with traditional kerosene, but after successful ground tests, Virgin and its partners Rolls-Royce, Boeing, BP and others won permission to fly using only SAF.

The fuel used to power Tuesday’s flight is mostly made from used cooking oil and waste animal fat mixed with a small amount of synthetic aromatic kerosene made from waste corn, Virgin Atlantic said.


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