British Airways has operated its first passenger service directly powered by sustainable aviation fuel, a London to Glasgow flight that the airline said produced 62% less CO2 emissions than a similar journey a decade ago.
The airline said the combination of the fuel – partly made from recycled cooking oil – with optimal flight paths, electrified airport vehicles and its newest plane slashed emissions. BA said it had offset the CO2 produced, making the flight carbon-neutral.
While about 6.4 tons of CO2 were still produced by flight BA1476 on Tuesday, the airline said the flight was intended to demonstrate the progress made by the aviation industry in its attempts to decarbonise ahead of the Cop26 summit.
The service was operated by BA’s special liveried “sustainability” plane, an Airbus A320neo, its quietest and most fuel-efficient short-haul model. The fuel was a 35% mix of sustainable fuels (SAFs) from BP – close to the maximum proportion currently permitted and higher than in similar demonstration flights.
Further contributions to maximising efficiency came from the air traffic control service Nats, which ensured a direct ascent and descent with no holding time, while Heathrow used vehicles powered by green electricity to push the plane on the ground.
While most of the factors involved in creating the “perfect flight” that BA aimed for on Tuesday are not always available – and considerable scepticism remains about sustainable air travel and offsetting – BA said it was a glimpse of the future.
The BA chief executive, Sean Doyle, said: “This flight offered a practical demonstration of the progress we’re making in our carbon reduction journey. By working together with our industry partners we’ve delivered a 62% improvement in emissions reductions compared to a decade ago.
“This marks real progress in our efforts to decarbonise and shows our determination to continue innovating, working with governments and industry, and accelerating the adoption of new low-carbon solutions.”
BA said the reduction in emissions compared with a similar London-Edinburgh flight in 2010 was achieved primarily by the more efficient aircraft and operations – a 34% cut. The sustainable fuel, whose “carbon lifecycle emissions” could be up to 80% lower, contributed a 28% reduction. The remaining 38%, in common with all BA domestic flights, were offset using “high-quality, verified carbon offsets” – although there is significant dispute about the value of offsetting.
The Heathrow chief executive, John Holland-Kaye, said the flight showed “that the solutions to deliver net zero flight exist, we just need to scale them up”.
However, Cait Hewitt, the policy director of the Aviation Environment Federation, said: “It’s important to realise with SAFs that these are net emissions. You still get as much CO2 coming out of the back of the aircraft as you do with conventional fuels.
“The SAFs available today will not a scalable solution for the industry. To suggest that this a long-term path to decarbonise aviation would be misleading.”