Major airline makes inroads on CO2 emissions

Virgin Atlantic takes new carbon reduction initiatives

Virgin Atlantic is focusing on alternative fuel, modern aircraft and waste management to meet its sustainability targets.

Virgin Atlantic has published its sustainability report revealing impressive carbon savings and an unusual and effective sustainable food project.

Over the last nine years, the airline has reduced its total aircraft CO2 emissions by 22% – from over 5 million tonnes in 2007 to around 4 million in 2016. This is mirrored by reductions in two key efficiency measures: CO2 per Revenue Tonne Kilometre (-17%) and CO2 per passenger km (-22%), with all three measures having reduced 8% in the last year alone. These carbon efficiencies mean that Virgin Atlantic is already well ahead of the IATA industry target agreed for 2020.

The substantial carbon savings have largely been delivered thanks to a multi-billion dollar fleet investment in Boeing 787 aircraft, as well as a range of fuel saving initiatives such as single engine taxiing, real-time weather technology which helps pilots make smarter route choices, and rigorous weight management of all products on the aircraft.

Looking to the future, Virgin Atlantic is continuing its commitment to a lower carbon fleet and in 2016 announced an order for 12 Airbus A350-1000s to enter service from 2019. These more fuel efficient, quieter aircraft will replace older four engine aircraft to deliver a 30% carbon saving on every flight, meaning that by 2021, Virgin Atlantic will have one of the youngest fleets in the sky for a long haul operator.

Low carbon airline fuel

The airline has also continued its innovative partnership with clean tech company LanzaTech to create low carbon fuel by recycling carbon in waste industrial gases. The programme achieved a milestone in 2016 when it successfully generated its first significant batch of ethanol-to-jet fuel. Following the breakthrough, LanzaTech was awarded a grant from the US Department of Energy to design a 3-4 million US gallon demonstration scale jet fuel plant.

Craig Kreeger, CEO of Virgin Atlantic commented; “2016 was a landmark year for sustainability at Virgin Atlantic, in which we delivered  significant carbon savings, drove improvements in sustainable onboard food and drink and raised hundreds of thousands of pounds for our charity partners. Our investment in a cleaner, quieter fleet is well underway with the arrival of the dual engine 787s, and an order for 12 A350s will complete the fleet transformation and offer significant carbon savings, as well as an unrivalled experience for our customers.

“Despite political and economic headwinds, we remain fully committed to our sustainability programme and will continue to drive new ways to reduce carbon emissions and promote responsible supply chain practices.”

Although aircraft will always be the largest source of carbon emissions for airlines, Virgin Atlantic is also continuing with other initiatives at the airline.

Sustainable inflight food

A partnerhip with the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) is helping to ensure the 5.5 million meals served on board each year meet key principles of: fair working conditions and pay for suppliers and workers; humanely farmed meat and dairy; sustainably sourced fish and seafood and reduced deforestation-risk food.

Gate Gourmet UK – which serves more than 50% of Virgin Atlantic flights – now complies fully with all sustainable standards. As a result of the standards introduced by Virgin Atlantic, Gate Gourmet now offers sustainable fish as standard to other UK airline customers.

Virgin Atlantic has focused on removing food which contributes to deforestation such as soy, palm oil and beef. All menus from the Caribbean now use rapeseed oil which saves 100 tonnes of palm oil per year.

Make do and mend

Strict rules prevent long haul airlines from recycling anything that has touched meat or dairy products, however Virgin Atlantic has focused on areas where it can make changes, like high value recyclables.

In 2016 over one million passenger convenience kits were recycled – with 55% reassembled into new kits.

The sponges from headsets will soon be used to surface an equestrian centre, while disused plastics on board are made into benches.

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