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Virgin Atlantic flight fuelled by cooking oil to fly from Heathrow to New York

Virgin Atlantic flight fuelled by cooking oil to fly from Heathrow to New York

Could this be the start of a new era in sustainable travel?

Hopping on a flight could be about to come with a lot less environmental guilt, if Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson has anything to do with it.

Virgin Atlantic is about to make the first transatlantic flight fuelled by, in part, cooking oil - making for a much greener journey.

On Tuesday morning a Boeing 787 Dreamliner airplane will take off from London Heathrow and make its way to New York's JFK airport.

John Lamparski / Stringer / Getty
John Lamparski / Stringer / Getty

Unfortunately, you won't be able to buy a seat on this flight - instead, bigwigs like Branson, the UK's Transport Secretary Mark Harper and Virgin Atlantic chief executive Shai Weiss will be among the passengers.

The flight's engine will use 100% pure sustainable aviation fuel (Saf), which is made from sustainable sources such as agricultural waste and used cooking oil, meaning its production involves using about 70% less carbon.

It's a huge step towards the aviation industry becoming more sustainable - currently Saf makes up only 0.1% of aviation fuel used globally.

The main problem? Saf is currently several times more expensive to produce than conventional jet fuel, but hopefully this will change in the future.

While the Virgin flight is momentous, it's not the first transatlantic flight powered by 100% Saf - one of US company Gulfstream Aerospace's business jets took home that prize earlier this month.

But Virgin Atlantic's flight will be the first of its kind by a large passenger aircraft. The company has had a bit of help to get to this milestone - last year the UK Government gave it up to £1 million to plan and operate the flight, to show the effectiveness of Saf.

Steve Parsons/PA
Steve Parsons/PA

Last week, the UK Department for Transport (DfT) said the flight will “usher in a new normal for international travel” and make “guilt-free flying a reality”.

But not everyone is quite so thrilled with the news - particularly campaign group Aviation Environment Federation (AEF).

AEF policy director Cait Hewitt said: “The idea that this flight somehow gets us closer to guilt-free flying is a joke.

“Saf represent around 0.1% of aviation fuel globally and will be very hard to scale up sustainably.”

She accused the aviation sector of being “misleading” over the impact of using Saf on carbon emissions.

She added: “Hopefully, we’ll have better technological solutions in future but, for now, the only way to cut CO2 from aviation is to fly less.”

Featured Image Credit: NurPhoto / coffeekai /Getty