March 1, 2024

The Queens County Citizen

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First transatlantic flight using “green” fuels for Virgin Atlantic

First transatlantic flight using "green" fuels for Virgin Atlantic

(Londres) La compagnie aérienne britannique Virgin Atlantic opère mardi un vol transatlantique propulsé intégralement aux carburants dits durables, une première, même si les organisations écologistes qualifient l’opération de « verdissement de façade » (« greenwashing »).


L’avion a décollé de l’aéroport londonien d’Heathrow vers 6 h 50 (heure de l’Est) et doit arriver à celui de JFK à New York à 14 h 30 (heure de l’Est).

Il est le premier « fonctionnant 100 % aux carburants dits durables sur les deux moteurs, par une compagnie aérienne commerciale, sur un trajet long courrier », précise Virgin dans un communiqué.

La compagnie précise toutefois qu’il ne s’agit pas d’un vol commercial, donc sans passager n’ayant payé un billet ni aucun chargement de fret.

Le milliardaire britannique Richard Branson, fondateur de la compagnie, s’est dit « très fier d’être à bord » du vol au côté des équipes « qui ont travaillé ensemble pour tracer la voie de la décarbonation de l’aviation long-courrier », selon Virgin Atlantic.

« Le vol historique d’aujourd’hui […] It shows how we can both decarbonise transport and allow passengers to travel when and where they want,” welcomed Transport Minister Mark Harper, also quoted in the press release.

Sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs) can be used alongside kerosene (up to 50%) in current aircraft, produced from used oils, wood residues or algae. They are considered the main lever for the decarbonisation of the sector in the coming decades, but their production is still in its infancy and very expensive.

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Additionally, they are used in combustion engines that continue to produce CO2Decarbonization occurs further upstream, in reusing plant material rather than extracting hydrocarbons.

The flight will take place on a Boeing 787 with Rolls-Royce engines powered only by this fuel.

“Technical Impasse”

The British government announced last December that it would back “up to one million pounds” for the airline-led project in collaboration with the University of Sheffield, American aircraft maker Boeing, British engine maker Rolls-Royce and giant BP hydrocarbons.

Environmental group Stay Grounded described the move as “facade greening” in a press release on Monday.

“It’s no coincidence that this flight happened two days before the start of COP28 in Dubai,” Stay Grounded said. “While the world’s attention is focused on an airplane, 100,000 people use fossil fuels every day. The alternatives are just a drop in the ocean of hydrocarbons.

Finlay Asher, an aerospace engineer who worked for Rolls-Royce, was quoted by Stay Grounded as describing the CDA technology, known as SAF in English, as a “technological dead end” because it has not been developed at a scale sufficient for a variant.

“The waste from this aircraft used as a feedstock for biokerosene is not available in large enough quantities to have a significant impact on aviation emissions,” AFP said.R Doug Parr, Greenpeace UK scientist.

“Additionally, CO2 Green hydrogen produced from live air capture and electrolysis – both used to make e-kerosene – is very expensive to produce. […] The only effective way to address aviation emissions in the short term is to address demand, and any suggestion to the contrary is utopian,” he added.

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