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Exploring Sustainable Aviation Fuel at Heathrow

Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) is an airplane fuel alternative designed to cut lifecycle carbon emissions. It is almost chemically identical to traditional jet fuel and so directly replaces fossil fuel. It can be made from a variety of sources, including different types of waste, and by combining hydrogen with captured carbon.

SAF can reduce up to 70% or more of lifecycle carbon emissions1 and potentially by 100% in future when third-generation Power-to-Liquid fuels are available (currently in small-scale production). The biggest single contribution that will help us get to Net Zero is changing airline fuel to SAF – it is projected to account for around 40% of the total carbon reductions by 20502

In 2022, Heathrow embarked on a ground-breaking journey with the introduction of its SAF incentive programme. This initiative aligns with our commitment to reducing environmental impact and contributing to global climate goals. The scheme incentivises the use of up to 155,000 tonnes of SAF at the airport in 2024, which targets the equivalent of over 340,000 tonnes of carbon cut from flights. £71m is available to airlines to support the swap to cleaner fuels3.

Understanding Heathrow's SAF Incentive Programme

Heathrow's SAF incentive programme has clear objectives:


Our primary goal of the incentive is to actively support and accelerate SAF adoption at Heathrow and throughout the aviation industry. This reinforces collective efforts to reduce carbon emissions and combat climate change.

How it works:

Recognising that SAF production can incur higher costs, the incentive approximately halves the price gap between conventional jet fuel and SAF4, making SAF more affordable to airlines. The programme does this by creating a SAF incentive “pot”, funded by our aeronautical charges5. Airlines that plan to uplift SAF at Heathrow bid to this pot and receive a rebate. This bridges the cost gap between SAF and traditional fuels, making SAF more accessible and economically viable for airlines at Heathrow.

SAF usage targets:

Heathrow has set an ambition to progressively increase the amount of SAF used at the airport each year, rising to 11% SAF by 2030. Ultimately, Government policy will be fundamental to achieving this ambition, alongside our incentive.

Environmental ambitions:

The incentive scheme plays a pivotal role in our broader strategy to reduce carbon emissions from air travel, aligning with our goal to reduce carbon emissions “in the air” by up to 15% by 2030.

Industry participation:

We're pleased to note significant interest and participation from various airlines in our SAF programme. This industry-wide engagement highlights the critical importance of SAF in sustainable aviation.

Passengers can choose to support SAF

As a passenger travelling through Heathrow, you can address your flight’s carbon emissions by supporting SAF through the platform CHOOOSE, selecting any percentage up to 100%. The platform gives passengers the option to support SAF or certified reforestation projects regardless of their airline or end destination. 


The crucial role of SAF in modern aviation

Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) is increasingly recognised as a cornerstone of the aviation industry's sustainability endeavours. Its versatility allows blending with conventional jet fuel at rates of up to 50%. Leading aircraft manufacturers, such as Airbus and Boeing, have pledged to make their aircraft 100% SAF-compatible by 2030. SAF is gaining momentum as a viable and accepted alternative in aviation fuel – over 450,000 flights have taken to the skies using SAF and more than 50 airlines have experience using SAF in commercial operations globally.

On 28 November 2023, Virgin Atlantic made a historic flight from Heathrow to New York JFK. It was a world first: a transatlantic flight on a Boeing 787 with Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engines 100% powered by SAF.

Fuelling Flight100 - Nov 2023

The environmental impact of SAF

Heathrow, in collaboration with key industry players, advocates for the widespread adoption of SAF as a key means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. SAF is derived from renewable sources and can reduce up to 70% or more of lifecycle carbon emissions, marking a significant shift towards environmentally responsible aviation fuel options that align with Heathrow's broader sustainability objectives.

Feedstocks in SAF production

A fuel ‘feedstock’ refers to the raw material used to produce the fuel. Not all SAF feedstocks are created equal.

First-generation ‘HEFA’ feedstocks are derived from waste fats and oils, such as cooking oils, and crops.

Second-generation feedstocks are based on non-food biomass, including agricultural residues, forestry waste, and processed municipal waste.

Third-generation feedstock combines green hydrogen and carbon, also known as power-to-liquid fuel, and could reduce lifecycle carbon emissions by 100% in the future.

The UK focus is currently on second-generation waste-based fuels. They are the focus of the first planned SAF production facilities of which the UK Government aims to have five in construction by 2025, according to its Jet Zero Strategy. These feedstocks minimise competition with food production and significantly reduce the environmental impact associated with SAF production.


Global trends in SAF adoption

Heathrow's SAF incentive scheme is part of a global initiative encompassing policies and financial mechanisms that incentivise and accelerate sustainable fuel use in aviation worldwide. These collaborative global efforts are instrumental in guiding the aviation industry towards sustainability and reducing its overall carbon footprint.

The Third International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Conference on Aviation and Alternative Fuels (CAAF/3) was held in Dubai in November 2023; it was a key moment for the industry in adopting a collective goal to shift away from fossil fuels. This builds on the historic agreement in 2022 to adopt a long-term goal for international aviation of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. The conference had two key outcomes.

A vision to reduce CO2 emissions in international aviation by 5% by 2030.

A global framework to facilitate the scale-up in development and deployment of SAF, LCAF (low carbon aviation fuels) and other aviation cleaner energies.


The Heathrow Fly Up

The Heathrow Fly Up launched in partnership with Heston’s The Perfectionists’ Café to create awareness of Sustainable Aviation Fuel in response to only fourteen per cent of travellers having heard of it, despite the fact it will play a key role in reducing the carbon footprint of the aviation industry.

100% of the cooking oils used to make the breakfasts will be recycled by Quatra into clean, renewable biofuels including road fuels and/or Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF).

Heathrow's ongoing commitment to SAF development

Our commitment to exploring and expanding the use of SAF aligns with global trends in the aviation industry's sustainability efforts. Heathrow's work in developing a new SAF production methodology, with the support of Government and industry stakeholders, is pivotal in achieving emission reduction targets and firmly establishing SAF as an essential component of the aviation industry's future.

[4] The SAF Incentive is calculated by reference to reducing the premium price gap between fossil kerosene and SAF fuel by approximately 50%. For the purpose of the SAF Incentive in 2024, Heathrow has assumed the premium to be GBP 920 per tonne net of Renewable Transport Fuels Certificate (RTFC) value, so will incentivise SAF delivery to Heathrow Airport based on £460 per tonne.

[5] Referring to fees levied for aeronautical services. The SAF incentive pot is funded through NOx aeronautical charges.