Heathrow and BA zone in on net-zero 'perfect flight' using sustainable jet fuel

Aviation industry says journey demonstrates giant strides in reducing emissions

British Airways flew an Airbus A320neo from Heathrow to Glasgow using sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) for the first time ever. Photo: British Airways
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Britain's aviation industry has come together to operate an ultra-low emissions flight from England to Scotland.

It was described as a step towards the “perfect flight".

The British Airways plane flew from London Heathrow to Glasgow Airport on Tuesday and was powered directly by sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) provided by partner BP.

The specially adapted fuel was blended at 35 per cent with traditional jet fuel, meaning it emitted far less carbon than a typical passenger journey.

An Airbus A320neo, the quietest and most fuel-efficient short-haul aircraft currently in British Airways’ fleet, was the aircraft chosen to undertake the journey.

Several other factors were calibrated to ensure that the flight was net zero, including the use of electric-powered vehicles to tow the aircraft.

In addition, air traffic controllers at NATS - formerly National Air Traffic Services - ensured the aircraft made as direct a journey as possible with little to no levelling off, which causes addition fuel burn.

Organisers say they wanted the flight to demonstrate how far the aviation industry has progressed in its efforts to reduce carbon emissions.

It comes a decade after the industry flew its first “perfect flight”.

Tuesday's flight reportedly achieved a 62 per cent CO2 emissions reduction compared to a decade ago, thanks to SAF technology.

Of that reduction, 34 per cent came from efficient aircraft and operations, 28 per cent came from the use of sustainable aviation fuel and the remaining 38 per cent per cent came from using high-quality, verified carbon offsets.

British Airways says the remaining emissions produced by the flight were offset as part of its carbon reduction policy, which includes investing in projects such as renewable energy, protection of rainforests and reforestation programmes.

Heathrow has urged the government to scale up production of SAF technology and incentivise airlines to use it.

This includes setting escalating mandates that require a minimum of 10 per cent SAF use by airlines by 2030 - something British Airways and its parent company IAG committed to recently - and increasing to at least 50 per cent by 2050.

Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye said that solutions to ensure more net-zero flights are there, but “need to be scaled up".

“The faster we scale up supply and use of sustainable aviation fuels, the faster we can decarbonise aviation and protect the benefits of flying in a world without carbon.

“What is needed urgently is for government to introduce policies to increase the supply of SAF and to provide the right price incentives for airlines to use it.”

Sean Doyle, British Airways’ chairman and chief executive, said the flight “offered a practical demonstration of the progress we’re making in our carbon reduction journey".

“By working together with our industry partners, we’ve delivered a 62 per cent improvement in emissions reductions compared to a decade ago.

“This marks real progress in our efforts to decarbonise and shows our determination to continue innovating, working with governments and industry, and accelerating the adoption of new low-carbon solutions to get us closer still to the perfect flight of the future.”

Updated: October 07, 2021, 11:56 AM