The world’s first ever transatlantic flight from London to New York, operated by Virgin Atlantic, powered solely by Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF), took place on Tuesday 28th November, a monumental step on the long road of “clean” air transport. But what is SAF, what does this mean for future air travel and is it as sustainable as Virgin claim?


SAF is produced from renewable feedstocks including cooking oils, non-palm waste oils from animals or plants, solid waste from homes and businesses I.e. packaging, paper and food scraps that would otherwise end up landfill.  Air BP’s SAF is currently made from used cooking oil and animal waste fat. The chemical makeup is very similar to that of fossil fuels, yet it produces up to 80% fewer lifetime carbon emissions.


Current regulations prohibit airlines from using a blend of more than 50% SAF on commercial flights. To operate the flight, a special permit was issued by the UK Civil Aviation Authority.


It does, however, require an immense amount of energy to produce and as a result is extremely costly. The limited amount of SAF feedstocks and the lack of sustainable methods of both collection of feedstocks and SAF production make it an unrealistic solution for the future, yet most definitely a step in the right direction, before technology allows for greener fuels such as hydrogen.


Despite SAF’s reduced CO2 emissions, the sole way of truly cutting down emissions is to cut down flights and it appears that for the foreseeable future, our trips to Europe, Asia and all other parts of the world, until SAF production considerably increases, will continue to be fuelled, quite literally, by fossil jet fuels.