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Guilt free flying or clever PR? What it was like on Virgin Atlantic’s new 100% sustainable aviation fuel flight | Climate News

“It works!” declares Virgin Atlantic founder Sir Richard Branson as we cross the Atlantic on this record-breaking flight using 100% sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), largely made up of used cooking oil.

In his affable way, he recalls the times he had to be rescued from the very same ocean during previous record-breaking attempts. We smile along, a little nervously.

There are no ordinary passengers on board the Boeing 787. Instead, milling about the cabin are engineers, scientists, aviation officials, Mark Harper, the transport secretary, and journalists.

So what’s it like to travel on the “fat flyer” as it’s been dubbed?

Well, perhaps a little disappointingly, just like any other flight.

SAF looks, smells and performs just like normal aviation fuel and can be dropped in normal engines without the need for modification.

Sir Richard and Virgin know how to make a big noise about their achievements so, as I look out of the window over the ocean, I ponder is this just another great way to get attention, or actually another important step along the flightpath to what the government likes to call “guilt free flying”?

The truth is, probably a bit of both.

Sky News presenter Jonathan Samuels on the Virgin Atlantic flight using 100% Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF), largely made up of used cooking oil.
Sky News presenter Jonathan Samuels on the flight

Virgin Atlantic has, like British Airways and other UK-based airlines, genuinely committed to trying to find a greener, cleaner way of flying.

After all, in a highly competitive market they know passengers are demanding it.

Virgin points out it has one of the youngest and most fuel-efficient fleets in the skies which has already reduced carbon emissions by more than 20%.

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The airline is working hard to reach the government’s ambitious target to increase the use of SAF to at least 10% by 2030.

This flight however is not 100% emission-free, but rather “net zero” with the airline offsetting carbon emissions made during the journey.

Plus the very process of making SAF uses lots of energy, and SAF critics argue there simply isn’t anything like enough raw material or “feedstock” in the UK to produce it.

WhatsApp picture of a Virgin Atlantic plane being refuelled from Jonathan Samuels
The Virgin Atlantic plane being refuelled

The Royal Society estimates more than half of all the UK’s agricultural land would be needed to produce enough SAF to replace the jet fuel used by Britain’s aviation sector.

Pressure is being put on the government to help invest in SAF technology and to scale up production.

Green campaigners also point to the growth in flying.

The International Air Transport Association expects the number of passengers to nearly double by 2036, and many environmentalists say the best way to save the planet is to drastically reduce our air miles.

So as flight VS100 ploughs along over the pond don’t be mistaken into thinking it is the answer to all our climate-friendly flying prayers.

Instead, SAF is a mid-term solution to helping make a decent dent in decarbonising aviation while other greener technologies, like hydrogen, are developed.

Virgin Orbit explains first satellite mission from UK failed to reach orbit due to rocket fuel error | Science & Tech News

The first satellite mission from UK soil failed to reach orbit last month because a rocket fuel filter had become dislodged, Virgin Orbit has said.

Virgin Orbit sent up a jumbo jet carrying the rocket from Cornwall on 9 January.

But excitement turned to disappointment when the rocket failed to deploy its payload of nine satellites.

Virgin Orbit chief executive Dan Hart said the company would “proceed cautiously towards the launch” of its next rocket.

The opening part of the mission went according to plan as its plane took off from Spaceport Cornwall, Britain’s first such site, at Newquay airport.

A converted Boeing 747 named Cosmic Girl flew to 35,000ft over the Atlantic Ocean off Ireland’s southern coast.

There it jettisoned the 21-metre-long rocket containing nine small satellites, which would have been the first launched into orbit from the UK, or anywhere in western Europe, towards space.

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Why did the UK’s rocket fail?

But the organisers of the Start Me Up mission soon identified an “anomaly” which led to a “premature shutdown” that meant LauncherOne failed to orbit.

According to an investigation conducted by Virgin Orbit and overseen by the US Federal Aviation Administration, as well as the UK Air Accidents Investigation Branch, the craft “successfully executed pre-flight preparations, carrier aircraft take-off, captive carry flight, and rocket release.”

The statement added: “The ignition, first stage flight, stage separation, second stage ignition, and fairing deployment of the LauncherOne rocket were nominal.”

All these milestones were described as “first-of-a-kind achievements” for any orbital launch attempt from western Europe, however from this point things started to go wrong.

Cosmic Girl was carrying Virgin Orbit's LauncherOne rocket
Cosmic Girl was carrying Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket

Read more:
Relive the space mission as it happened
‘Space is hard’: Crowds look on bright side after launch disappointment

After the second stage first burn a fuel filter in the feed line became dislodged, causing a fuel pump to operate at a reduced level – eventually starving the engine of fuel.

This caused the Newton 4 engine to overheat to the point of malfunction which resulted in the second stage thrust prematurely ending the mission.

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‘LauncherOne has suffered an anomaly’

According to the statement “the second stage and its payloads fell back to Earth, landing in the approved safety corridor in the Atlantic Ocean.”

Mr Hart said the failure was “painful for all involved” but that the team was determined to “understand all contributing elements and to thereby get back to flight with a better system and a wiser team.”

Virgin Atlantic suspends gender-neutral uniform policy for England World Cup flight to Qatar | UK News

Virgin Atlantic suspended a policy allowing its crew to choose gender-neutral uniforms on its flight taking England’s World Cup football squad to Qatar.

The airline said the decision followed a “risk assessment… considering laws and attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community and expressions of identity”.

Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar under Islamic Sharia law, and there have been concerns about the conservative country’s treatment of LGBTQ+ tourists attending the tournament.

England’s World Cup squad left their St George’s Park HQ to set off for Qatar on Tuesday.

Their flight from Birmingham was believed to be on an Airbus A350 plane called “Rain Bow” – a symbol of LGBT+ pride.

A Virgin Atlantic A350 Airbus, featuring Rain Bow ahead of departure at Birmingham airport. The plane called 'Rain Bow' is believed to be carrying the England's World Cup squad to Qatar. Picture date: Tuesday November 15, 2022.
Virgin Atlantic plane at Birmingham airport taking England’s World Cup squad to Qatar

In a statement, Virgin Atlantic said “We’re proud our leading Gender Identity Policy allows our people to express themselves through uniform choice.

“Following a risk assessment, it was recommended the policy was not applied on today’s charter flight to ensure the safety of our people.”

Virgin Atlantic introduced a “fluid” approach in September, allowing staff the option of wearing its red or burgundy uniforms based on “how they identify or present themselves”.

A Virgin Atlantic A350 Airbus, featuring Rain Bow ahead of departure at Birmingham airport. The plane called 'Rain Bow' is believed to be carrying the England's World Cup squad to Qatar. Picture date: Tuesday November 15, 2022.
A Virgin Atlantic A350 Airbus featuring Rain Bow at Birmingham airport

An ambassador for the World Cup in Qatar recently described homosexuality as “damage in the mind”. Khalid Salman told a German public broadcaster that being gay was “haram”, which means forbidden in Arabic.

England skipper Harry Kane is one of several national captains who plan to participate in the “OneLove” campaign during the tournament. Players will wear a rainbow-coloured armband to campaign against discrimination.

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Being gay is ‘damage in the mind’, Qatar World Cup ambassador says

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Wales were also making the trip to Qatar on Tuesday for the country’s first appearance at the tournament in 64 years.

Wales' Matthew Smith departing for Qatar from Cardiff airport, Wales. Picture date: Tuesday November 15, 2022.
Wales’ players arriving at Cardiff Airport

Jets of water were squirted over the Wales team’s plane as it departed from Cardiff Airport.

Soccer Football - FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 - Wales Departure for Qatar - Cardiff Airport, Cardiff, Wales, Britain - November 15, 2022 An arc of water washes over the Wales team's flight as they depart for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Action Images via Reuters/Matthew Childs
An arc of water washes over the Wales team’s flight as they depart for the World Cup

Wales and England are in the same group for the tournament, and will face each other in two weeks.