100% so-called “SAF” flights called out for being distracting marketing gimmicks

by | 27 Nov 2023 | Press Release

For more information, contact Hannah Lawrence at Stay Grounded, (+43) 0670 550 09 34, press@stay-grounded.org

  • Tomorrow’s first transatlantic flight on 100% so-called “Sustainable Aviation Fuel” is not net zero
  • It comes alongside airlines’ greenwashing of flights at the COP28 in Dubai
  • Find quotes from an engineer, scientist, and the climate movement below

November 27th – Aviation engineers, scientists, and the climate movement call out Virgin Atlantic’s greenwashing over the first transatlantic flight using so-called ‘SAF’.

The airline promotes their first transatlantic test-flight powered by so-called “Sustainable” Aviation Fuel (SAF), taking place tomorrow, as a supposedly big step towards reducing emissions from aviation.

It is no coincidence that the flight takes place two days before the start of COP28 in Dubai, while other airlines offer so-called “green” flights to the COP. However, the sustainability, as well as the scalability, of these flights is highly questionable.

Magdalena Heuwieser from the Stay Grounded network said: “The aviation sector’s current attempts to promote ‘sustainable’ flights is a greenwashing distraction from the urgent need to reduce flights.”

She explained: “While public focus is on this one seemingly green flight, there are 100,000 daily flights using fossil fuels. Fuel substitutes are only a tiny drop in a fossil fuel ocean. They are nowhere close to being scalable in the necessary time frame to avoid climate collapse. What is urgently needed is to reduce the burning of fossil jet fuels, which means reducing flights wherever possible”.

Finlay Asher, an aerospace engineer who used to work for Rolls Royce, explained the issue with the flight: “So-called Sustainable Aviation Fuels rarely do what they say on the tin. This Virgin flight will be powered by a fuel that has been produced via a process which is a technological dead-end: it can’t be sustainably scaled beyond a few percent of existing jet fuel use.”

Asher is now active in the aviation worker’s initiative Safe Landing: “As aviation workers, we’d rather see less of these distracting marketing gimmicks, and instead focus on reducing fossil fuel use as rapidly as humanly possible. We don’t support further taxpayer money being thrown at the fuels industry to develop dodgy processes, and would rather see it was spent transforming air travel itself – providing actual aviation jobs for aviation workers.”

Chuck Collins, from the US based Institute for Policy Studies and co-author of the private jet study High Flyers, said: “There will be many private jets at the COP again. We see that the private jet set is on the defense about their indefensible form of transport on a warming planet. Their only fig leaf is to point to SAF which is neither sustainable, practical, or scientifically realistic in any timeframe to rapidly reduce emissions. This is nothing more than distraction and greenwashing at a time when they should be changing their behaviour.”

The flight takes place two days before the COP, and just after ICAO’s Conference on ‘Aviation and Alternative Fuels’. Airlines including Lufthansa and Etihad are promoting “green” flights to the COP, pointing to the use of the same so-called “Sustainable” Aviation Fuels. The aviation industry will host a staggering four-hour forum at the COP on its mobility day on December 6th.