Virgin flight lifts off, powered by cooking oil

For those of you who are already freaked out by airplanes, we have some fun news: Soon, your plane could be kept in the sky entirely by stuff you’d find in a deep fryer.

What happened: A Virgin Atlantic plane powered entirely by a combination of waste cooking oil, animal fats, and other re-used fuels completed the journey from London to New York yesterday, a feat being celebrated as an environmental milestone in the aviation industry. 

  • It’s the first time a commercial airline has run a long-haul flight on sustainable aviation fuels (SAF)—a biofuel with a smaller carbon footprint than jet fuel. 

Why it matters: Sustainable fuels are regarded as the most effective and accessible decarbonization mechanism that the aviation industry has at the moment. As airlines push to decarbonize, SAFs are seen as a crucial part of steering the industry in the right direction as other long-term solutions like hydrogen and battery-powered planes are developed.

Yes, but: SAFs can cost up to nine times more to produce than jet fuel, and some experts aren't convinced that they’re actually a feasible alternative—especially when it comes to the reliability of sourcing materials like animal fats and waste oil to meet the demand for fuel.

Bottom line: Planes are responsible for ~5% of global greenhouse gas emissions. SAFs represent 65% of the International Air Transport Association’s plan to reach net-zero by 2050, meaning a lot of eggs are being put in the sustainable fuel basket.—LA