In recent days, the British airline Virgin Atlantic announced the first transatlantic flight powered exclusively by sustainable fuels.

The company said in a statement that the flight took off from Heathrow Airport and landed at JFK in New York.

This flight would be the first to be “100% powered by so-called sustainable fuels in both engines, by a commercial airline, on a long-haul route,” Virgin said in a statement.

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The company indicated that it was not a commercial flight, so the trip was made without passengers having paid for a ticket or taxes.

British billionaire Richard Branson, founder of the company, said he was “very proud to be on board the flight” along with teams “who have worked together to chart the path to decarbonizing long-haul aviation,” the airline said.

“Today’s historic flight (…) shows how we can decarbonise transport and allow passengers to continue flying wherever and whenever they want,” cheered British Transport Secretary Mark Harper, also quoted in the statement.

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While it may be planned as a step forward toward more environmentally friendly aviation, environmental groups described the act as an image wash.

“While the world’s attention is focused on one flight, there are 100,000 flights every day that use fossil fuels. “Substitutes are just a drop in the ocean of hydrocarbons,” says the environmental group Stay Grounded.

The International Business Aviation Council (IBAC) explained that the Sustainable aviation fuel (known as SAF) is composed of conventional Jet A/A-1 fuels blended with a sustainable, non-conventional agent and is produced via seven approved methods:

1. Fischer-Tropsch synthetic paraffinic kerosene (FT-SPK)

2. Hydroprocessed fatty acids and esters (HEFA)

3. Hydroprocessed fermented sugar synthetic isoparaffins (HFS-SIP)

4. Fischer-Tropsch synthetic kerosene with aromatics (FT-SKA)

5. Alcohol for SPK reactors (ATJ-SPK)

6. Kerosene synthesized by catalytic hydrothermolysis (CH-SK or CHJ)

7. Hydroprocessed hydrocarbons (HHC-SPK or HC-HEFA)

SAF produced in 2022 is estimated to have supplied only 0.1% of global jet fuel demand.

One of the difficulties in introducing it at a commercial level is its high cost compared to conventional fuel, which is petroleum-based. Nevertheless, the reduction of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions has been proven. (JO)