A ‘New Era’ for Aviation: Sweden Hosts the First Flight Powered Entirely By SAF

a plane flies into the clouds
Courtesy Philip Myrtorp | Unsplash

Swedish airline Braathens Regional Airlines and sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) supplier Neste Oyj say they’ve successfully powered the first commercial aircraft entirely on SAF.

The world’s first commercial flight powered by renewable energy was a success, according to Braathens and Neste. The flight is the result of the 100 percent SAF certification process with ATR Aircraft that began last year.

“As a leading Swedish domestic airline, our sustainability focus started long before any other airline, and this milestone is one of the main pillars and represents a real innovation for the industry,” Per G Braathen, Chairman of Braathens Regional Airlines said in a statement. “It proved that 100 percent SAF is the most immediate and effective option we have to reduce CO2 emissions and move faster to a decarbonized industry.”

100 percent SAF

The flight is the latest in a string of ground and flight tests on the ATR 72-600 prototype aircraft that started earlier this year. Previous tests had seen SAF in one engine, but today’s pilot was the first with the fuel in both.

“In recent months, we carried out a series of successful flights with sustainable aviation fuel in one engine,” ATR CEO Stefano Bortoli said.

net-zero air travel
Courtesy George Khelashvili | Motion Array

“We now decided it was time to perform the first test flight with 100 percent SAF in both engines. This helps us to certify our aircraft to fly solely on sustainable aviation fuels faster and to enable more sustainable connections as a result. The flight represents a true milestone for the entire aviation industry as it shows that this technology works and can be promptly adopted by many in our industry to speed up the transition to low-emission aviation,” he added.

SAF reduces emissions by up to 80 percent over its entire lifecycle when compared with kerosene-based jet fuel. The aviation industry accounts for more than two percent of total global emissions. But a shift to 100 percent SAF has been slow going. Current regulations in the U.S. limit SAF to no more than 50 percent of total fuel. Last year saw the first flight at the 50 percent SAF limit in the U.S. on United Airlines.

Sustainable air travel

In January, ExxonMobil partnered with Neste to supply SAF to airlines meeting France’s new blending requirement. Currently, all commercial flights refueling in France are required to use a minimum of 1 percent SAF. That will double by 2025 and move to five percent by 2030 in line with the E.U.’s European Green Deal. Air France and KLM added a surcharge for SAF earlier this year.

The first transatlantic flight powered by SAF is expected to happen next year, according to plans announced by U.K. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.

“This trailblazing net-zero emissions flight, a world first, will demonstrate the vital role that sustainable aviation fuel can play in decarbonizing aviation in line with our ambitious net-zero targets,” Shapps said in May. The U.K. is part of the Jet Zero Council partnership between the government and the aviation industry aimed at reducing emissions. The U.K. says it’s particularly committed to moving to 100 percent SAF as quickly as possible.

passengers deboarding a British Airways flight
Passengers deboarding a British Airways flight | Courtesy John Bowe, Unsplash

“SAF plays a key role in achieving aviation’s emission reduction goals,” said Jonathan Wood, Neste’s Vice President Europe, Renewable Aviation.

“When used in neat form, at 100 percent concentration as on this test flight, Neste MY Sustainable Aviation Fuel reduces greenhouse gas emissions over its life cycle by up to 80 percent compared to fossil jet fuel use, and provides additionally non-CO2 benefits through significantly reduced particulate emissions, among others,” Wood said. “As a drop-in fuel, it can be used in existing aircraft engines and is compatible with current airport fuel infrastructure. Test flights like this show it is possible to safely fly on 100 percent SAF and help accelerate the adoption of SAF in aviation.”

Today’s historic flight was piloted by ATR’s Chief pilot Cyril Cizabuiroz, Jean-Marie Marre, co-pilot, and Pascal Daussin, Flight Test Mechanic. The flight went from the coastal southern Sweden town of Malmö to Bromma, outside of Stockholm. Flight time was about 80 minutes.

“Today is a historic day for aviation,” Bortoli said. “After more than a century of commercial flights powered by kerosene, we are at the dawn of a new era.”

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