The airline said it plans to fly from London Heathrow to New York JFK airport on 28 November 2023 to test and showcase the feasibility of flying on 100 per cent SAF.
The permit follows technical reviews by the regulator, which analysed different aspects of the planned flight, including undertaking ground testing with Rolls Royce on a Trent 1000 engine running on 100 per cent SAF.
Led by Virgin Atlantic and partly funded by Department for Transport, preparation for the flight of the 787 Dreamliner has involved a consortium comprised of Boeing, Rolls-Royce, BP, and others, to demonstrate SAF as an alternative to regular jet fuel.
The UK Civil Aviation Authority worked closely with the consortium throughout their application and will continue to work alongside the industry to learn more about the performance and impact of sustainable aviation fuels.
In a statement, Rob Bishton, chief executive at the UK Civil Aviation Authority, said: “As the UK’s aviation regulator, it’s important that we safely enable the industry to embrace more sustainable practices and push the boundaries of what’s possible to create a greener aviation industry.
“This permit not only allows Virgin Atlantic and others to showcase their commitment to sustainability, but also serves as an example of how the industry is always exploring new technologies.
“Innovation and sustainability are vital areas of work, but they must go hand in hand with safety. This is a reminder that together we can drive change, reduce emissions, and make the skies greener for generations to come.”
Virgin Atlantic were awarded up to £1m in UK government funding in December 2022, following a challenge from the Department for Transport to support the industry in achieving the first transatlantic flight on an aircraft powered by 100 per cent SAF.
The Permit forms one of the approvals required for the flight and paves the way for Virgin Atlantic to submit applications to US Federal Aviation Administration, Irish Aviation Authority, and Transport Canada to allow the flight to travel through US, Irish and Canadian airspace.
Shai Weiss, CEO of Virgin Atlantic said: “We’re committed to using 10 per cent SAF by 2030, but to get there we need the government to support the creation of a UK SAF industry. We know that if we can make it, we can fly it.”
SAF is fuel derived from non-petroleum based renewable sources that is capable of being used as a replacement for, or blended with, kerosene. SAF can currently be used in jet engines to a maximum blend of 50 per cent with traditional kerosene without the need for any modifications. There are several processes to produce SAF, including algae, synthesised fuels from hydrogen waste, or from directly capturing carbon dioxide.
According to the UK Civil Aviation Authority, when fully replacing kerosene SAF could reduce lifecycle carbon emissions by over 70 per cent compared to conventional fossil jet fuel.