Virgin Atlantic expects extensive fleet upgrade programme to bring significant savings in carbon emissions
Fri 18 Oct 2013 – Although total CO2 emissions from aircraft fuel burn increased by 1.8% in 2012 over the previous year due to the addition of new routes, Virgin Atlantic’s overall fuel efficiency on a per passenger kilometre basis improved as a result of fleet renewal and higher load factors. During the year, the airline completed one of its biggest fleet improvement projects that saw entry into service of 10 twin-engine Airbus A330-300 aircraft, which Virgin says are about 30% more efficient on a per trip basis and about 19% more efficient on a per seat basis than the four-engine A340-600s they replaced. In 2014, it will take delivery of the first of 16 Boeing 787-900 aircraft on order. Virgin has set a target to reduce aircraft CO2 emissions by 30% per revenue tonne kilometre (RTK) from 2007 to 2020.
Despite an overall downward trend, the carrier suffered a blip in 2012 with CO2 per RTK creeping up in 2012 due, it reports in its latest sustainability report, to not carrying as much freight as it had hoped because of the continuing difficult economic conditions. Five years into the carrier’s long term goal, Virgin Atlantic has managed to reduce its CO2 per RTK by 4%, from 0.938 to 0.903kg/CO2/RTK, which means there is ground to make up but the carrier is confident of reaching the target as a result of its comprehensive fleet renewal programme along with other fuel efficiency initiatives.
Virgin is expecting the 787-900s to be up to 21% more efficient per trip and 28% more efficient on a per seat basis than similar sized aircraft in the fleet and says it is working with Boeing to optimise the aerodynamics of the new planes before delivery. It adds there are no plans to grow the size of the fleet over the next five years so these new aircraft will be replacing less efficient aircraft on a one for one basis.
For existing aircraft, the airline has also completed efficiency modifications to 90% of the Rolls-Royce Trent engines fitted to its A340-600 aircraft and 80% of the GE engines fitted to its Boeing 747-400 aircraft. The modifications offer specific fuel consumption improvements of 1% and 0.25% respectively.
In 2012, Virgin introduced a fuel efficiency tool from OSyS that is already being used extensively to analyse other fuel efficiency initiatives such as reduced engine taxiing and lighter weight carts. Through complementary changes like this, says the airline, it is expecting to save up to £20 million ($32m) and close to 100,000 tonnes of CO2 a year within the next five years.
The OSyS software collects and consolidates 300 data points per flight, allowing analysis of, for example, how arrival delays and holding patterns affect fuel usage; how flight plans can be optimised to reduce fuel burn; and the impact of fuel use on the ground at airports.
With fuel accounting for by far the greatest proportion of the airline’s operating costs, fuel and carbon efficiency is both Virgin Atlantic’s number one environmental issue, as well as a significant financial one. Efficiency savings, it says, are a key pillar of CEO Craig Kreeger’s strategy for returning the airline to profitability by the end of the 2014 financial year.
“I want Virgin Atlantic to develop and grow, but I believe it is absolutely crucial that this growth happens in a sustainable way,” said Kreeger, who joined the airline in February. “I have already been struck by the passion of our teams in delivering this right across the business – it is very much aligned with our company brand values and is inspired by our people. I’m looking forward to working with our teams and continuing to push the boundaries in finding sustainable aviation solutions.
“As an airline, we’re also very aware of our impact on the environment. We fully accept our part in reducing the negative consequences of air travel so that we can all continue to make the most of its benefits. Our number one priority is to reduce the carbon emissions from flying our aircraft.”
The airline’s business initiative with LanzaTech to develop sustainable alternative fuels has resulted in two awards earlier this year, The Observer Ethical Award and the Sustainable Biofuels aviation award.
As part of its ‘Change is in the Air’ sustainability programme, the airline is ramping up employee engagement activities, which has included a staff sustainability survey and raising awareness of the programme, and responses to it through emails.
The Virgin Atlantic 2013 Sustainability Report also covers other environmental initiatives on ground energy use, ground transport, water use, waste and sustainable procurement. It also features the many community programmes the airline is involved in around the world.