A Virgin Atlantic flight from London to New York was the first long haul commercial flight to be fuelled by 100% sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), the airline announced.

Flight100 took off on 28 November with 100% SAF in both engines, the company said.

“While 100% SAF flights aren’t entirely new (the RAF pulled it off in 2022 over Oxfordshire and recently a Gulfstream private jet completed the first transatlantic flight), Flight100 will mark the first for a long-haul commercial airline – demonstrating the potential of sustainable fuel in civil aviation,” the company said on its website.

Virgin Atlantic said the use of 100% SAF reduced fuel CO2 emissions of this one-off flight by up to 70% compared to traditional jet fuel, with any residual CO2 emissions mitigated through carbon removals.

“The flight will not only provide us with important research on the end-to-end carbon lifecycle of SAF, but also demonstrate its potential as a 100% drop-in replacement for fossil fuel and … support greater production and use of SAF at scale,” the company said.

The company won a competition by the UK’s Department of Transport last year to take on the challenge of flying across the Atlantic on 100% SAF.

To take on the challenge, the company partnered with specialists from Rolls-Royce, Boeing, Pratt & Whitney Canada, Imperial College London, University of Sheffield, Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) and aviation consultancy ICF.

Despite the success of the flight, the company said the SAF sector faced challenges around supply.

“In line with targets set by airlines, IATA [International Air Transport Association] and governments, SAF adoption of 10% by 2030 would require 40M tonnes of SAF. Put simply, there isn’t enough [SAF] being produced. Out of all aviation fuel in use, SAF only counts for about 0.1%. This really shows how far we’ve got to go,” the company said.

The company pointed out that flights currently could only use a blend of up to 50% SAF and obtaining special approval for 100% SAF on each flight was not practical for everyday travel.