plane aircraft

Net-zero flight to take to the skies in 2023

The UK transport secretary has pledged to deliver the world’s first net-zero transatlantic flight by 2023.

Grant Shapps has announced his plans for a competition to encourage the aviation industry to deliver the world’s first transatlantic flight fuelled purely by environmentally friendly aviation fuel by the end of next year.

The announcement was made during a speech to industry leaders in the US, in which the transport secretary challenged the sector to deliver the net-zero emissions flight between the UK and America. 

The flight will be supported by up to £1 million of competition funding made available from 2022 to 2023 to support the testing, research and personnel costs of the flight, which will use 100 per cent sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). The competition is open to airlines, fuel producers, aircraft or engine manufacturers and fuel suppliers.

“This trailblazing net-zero emissions flight, a world first, will demonstrate the vital role that sustainable aviation fuel can play in decarbonising aviation in line with our ambitious net-zero targets,” Shapps said while making the announcement.

The plan is part of the UK government’s agenda to achieve net-zero.

The global aviation industry currently produces around 2.1 per cent of all human-induced carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Therefore, targeting this sector is vital in the path towards decarbonising the world’s economy. However, this also poses many challenges, as heavy battery technology is unsuitable for long-haul planes.

The UK government said delivering the net-zero transatlantic flight would help accelerate the testing and approval of 100 per cent SAF “to unlock the full decarbonisation potential of this technology”.

Current jet fuel specifications do not allow flights to use 100 per cent sustainable aviation fuel, meaning SAF use needs to be complemented by additional decarbonisation measures to be fully net-zero. However, the government is making significant investments to drive the sector forward, and industry estimates suggest that a UK sustainable aviation fuel industry could reach an annual turnover of £2.3bn by 2040.

SAF is made from waste materials, such as household waste or used cooking oil, and offers greenhouse gas emissions savings of more than 70 per cent compared to conventional fossil jet fuel when fully replacing kerosene.

“When combined with greenhouse gas removals, 100 per cent SAF will enable the delivery of a net-zero flight,” the government said.

To further this goal, the Treasury recently announced it will provide £180m to support the development of new UK SAF plants, with the first three scheduled to be built by 2025. The government has also set itself a goal to achieve a 10 per cent SAF uptake rate by 2030.

The announcement has been well received by the industry, with Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, stating that: “UK airlines strongly support the development of a UK SAF industry, which will play a vital role in helping our sector deliver net-zero emissions by 2050, as we are committed to doing.”

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