Virgin Group boss Richard Branson announced on 31 August that his airlines would avoid buying fuel-thirsty four-engined airplanes to reduce their environmental impact. A logical advantage of the move would be reduced fuel costs.
He said that even though fears about carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions fuelling climate change would not reduce the demand for air travel, in the long run it was only innovation in bio-fuels that could provide a solution in the next decade.
Saying that global warming has become a priority, Branson said it also makes good economic sense to be eco-friendly, and that he favoured buying two-engined jets for the future.
Ironically, Virgin Atlantic's present fleet of 38 planes has all four engines, and it has six four-engined Airbus A380 super jumbos on order. Branson explained that he favoured four-engined planes earlier because passengers, staff and pilots preferred them.
But in April, the airline announced it was buying 15 Boeing 787 Dreamliner jets with two engines; the new fuel-efficient carbon-composite aircraft burn 27 per cent less fuel than the Airbus A340s they will replace.
"It's up to business leaders and politicians to come up with ways of reducing emissions," he said, adding, "I think governments should make sure fuel prices don't drop." Virgin is developing bio-fuels for aircraft in a tie-up with Boeing and engine-maker GE Aviation, and plans to test them next year.
Branson said that his airline would fly one jet engine on a four-engined Boeing 747 jumbo jet using bio-fuels sometime next year. He said that hopefully, within 10 years, planes will be carbon neutral. But he pointed out that any new fuel has to be at least as good, if not better, than the present crude-oil based fuels.
Branson has pledged that for the next 10 years, all profits from his own 51 per cent stakes in Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Trains will be invested in renewable energy.