Branson Outlines Plans to Cut Carbon Emissions from Aviation by Up to 25%; Calls for Global Air Industry Effort
The Chairman of Virgin Atlantic, Sir Richard Branson, today called on the global aviation industry to develop a shared solution to the growing issue of climate change. The move follows Virgin Group’s plans to invest $3 billion in renewable energy initiatives over the next ten years. (Earlier post.)
Speaking in New York, Sir Richard revealed that he has written to other airlines, including British Airways, American Airlines and Easyjet; engine and aircraft manufacturers such as Rolls Royce and Boeing; and airport operators including BAA in the UK, urging them to support a new cross-industry forum which will help to deliver practical ways of tackling climate change.
We need to accelerate the pace at which we reduce aviation’s impact on the environment. We cannot ignore that aviation does create environmental problems (around 2% of global CO2 emissions), although equally it produces significant economic and social benefits. [8% of the world’s GDP]—Sir Richard Branson
As a first step towards sustainable aviation, Virgin Atlantic today set out plan for more efficient aircraft ground movements around the world’s busiest airports. These changes would mean that aircraft would burn considerably less fuel and emit much lower levels of CO2.
The core of the current plan is the creation of “starting grids” for all aircraft departures. A starting grid is a holding area, close to the runway, consisting of several parking bays for aircraft. It means that aircraft can be towed closer to a runway before take-off, substantially reducing the time that engines need to be running.
After being towed by a small tug from its stand, an aircraft would only start its engines once on the starting grid, around 10 minutes before actual take-off. A starting grid also reduces congestion around stands, meaning aircraft that have recently landed wouldn’t have to wait, with their engines running, to get onto the stand. Aircraft arriving could also turn off their engines after five minutes and be towed to their stand, saving considerable extra CO2.
The starting grid system would make airport movements much more efficient and would reduce fuel consumption and on-the-ground carbon emissions by more than 50% ahead of take-off at London’s Heathrow airport for Virgin Atlantic aircraft, and by nearly 90% for Virgin Atlantic flights at JFK Airport in New York.
It would also mean that an aircraft flying from JFK to Heathrow could carry around two tonnes less weight in the air, which would mean that the amount of fuel burnt would be considerably less, reducing CO2 emissions even further.
Virgin Atlantic pilots are also trained in a method of descent called Continuous Descent Approach. This involves aircraft beginning their descent from high altitude much earlier, leading to a slower and smoother approach before landing. This earlier descent means that aircraft descend at a more efficient speed, therefore reducing fuel burn. Virgin Atlantic believes that all air traffic control authorities should adopt this approach, saving considerable CO2 emissions.
As part of its sustainable aviation strategy, Virgin Atlantic is also reducing the weight of each of its aircraft. It is painting the exterior of its planes with lighter paint, creating lighter fittings onboard, changing oxygen bottles from metal to carbon-fiber, and it is now using cargo bins made from lighter, but stronger carbon-fiber materials, rather than metal.
The airline is even seeking to remove empty champagne and beer bottles, the contents of which have been drunk before leaving the stand, so they can be recycled before the plane leaves for its destination. These measures save fuel and reduce CO2 emissions further.
Sir Richard also called for plans for a single European sky (from a air traffic control frame of reference), which would optimize air routings by aircraft and improve environmental performance further. IATA, the International Air Transport Association, predicts that 12% of global CO2 emissions by aircraft would be saved if air traffic control systems were more efficient.
What we’re suggesting would save over 150 million tonnes of carbon emissions a year. With global warming, the world is heading for a catastrophe. The aviation industry must play its part in averting that. Airlines, airports, air traffic controllers and governments should seize these initiatives and ensure they’re all implemented within two years. If they do so, up to 25% of the world’s aviation emissions can be cut. The savings in fuel costs can then be ploughed back into further initiatives to reduce fuel burn and carbon emissions, and into savings for passengers.—Sir Richard Branson
Although Virgin Atlantic supports an emissions trading scheme, climate change will only be tackled markedly by a reduction in carbon emissions themselves. As an airline, we have a duty to continue to reduce our environmental footprint and that is what we are encouraging our pilots, our engineering staff and all of our people to do. We will be announcing further measures in the next few months to demonstrate how Virgin Atlantic is taking the industry lead on the issue of sustainability.—Steve Ridgway, Chief Executive of Virgin Atlantic