Fly Like a Sustainably-fueled Aircraft

Cody Good
Thanksgiving Day flights in North America
Thanksgiving Day flights in North America, courtesy of @awgecollection on Instagram

Thanksgiving this past weekend set a new US record for the busiest day ever for air travel in the country with TSA screening nearly 3 million people on Monday. So hopefully you’ve saved those turkey dinner leftovers, but not for soup. It’s for the aviation industry and a new generation of sustainable fuels.

Background: By the time you’re reading this on Tuesday morning, Flight100, a Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787, should be well on its way from London to New York marking the first-ever commercial long-haul flight powered entirely by sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs).

  • According to Virgin Atlantic, the fuel powering the flight will be made from a combination of used cooking oil, waste animal fat, and synthetic aromatic kerosene.

Passengers of Flight 100 include Virgin Atlantic billionaire founder Richard Branson along with Virgin Atlantic’s chief executive and Britain’s transport minister.

  • Unfortunately for Branson, the title of first to evercross the pond via SAFs goes to Gulfstream, who accomplished the feat last week with a private G6 jet, clearly missing a PR move that could have brought Far East Movement out of retirement.

Why it’s important: The aviation industry currently accounts for 2 to 3 percent of global carbon emissions. It’s estimated that those emissions could be reduced up to 70 percent using SAFs. By 2030, airlines are targeting 10 percent SAF use, with shares rising to 65 percent by 2050.

Demand is high, supply is trying its best

Airlines across Europe are aggressively seeking out deals to secure SAF supply. Unfortunately, the small volumes of SAF—currently less than 0.1 percent of total global jet fuel demand – coupled with costs 3-5x higher than regular jet fuel are making the transition slow.

Big picture: The success of Flight100 highlights the potential of SAFs as a viable option for long-haul travel and a path forward to decarbonizing the aviation sector.

+Bonus infographic: The Top 10 Celebrities with the Largest Carbon Footprint from Flying

Sorry, Swifties.