Virgin Atlantic's carbon emissions continue to decline as new aircraft make impact on fuel efficiency
Fri 26 Jun 2015 – Virgin Atlantic says it is on course to meet its 2020 target of reducing carbon emissions per revenue tonne kilometre (RTK) by 30% from a 2007 baseline. Largely as a result of heavy investment in new, more fuel-efficient Airbus 330-300 and Boeing 787-9 aircraft, the reduction in CO2 per RTK to 2014 stands at 10%. The airline acknowledges it is halfway through the target period and only a third of the way in reaching the goal but believes the additional 787-9 Dreamliners about to join the fleet and other fuel efficiency initiatives will pay off. Despite operating more flights and carrying more passengers than any year since 2007, absolute emissions in 2014 were 12% below the baseline. Virgin Atlantic’s latest ‘Change is in the Air’ sustainability report also reveals the carrier, the first to set itself noise reduction targets, managed to lower its average noise output per aircraft movement by over 2dB last year.
Total CO2e emissions from Virgin Atlantic’s aircraft operations amounted to just over 4.6 million tonnes in 2014, a reduction of around 3% on the previous year, and down from 5.2 million tonnes in 2007. This was equivalent to 89.0 grams of CO2 per passenger kilometre, compared to 100.7 in 2007. The airline points out the comparable average for new car emissions in the UK last year was 124.8gCO2/km.
2013 marked the first full year of operations for the airline’s 10 new A330-300s and at least 17 Dreamliners are expected to join the fleet by 2018, which will make up about half the total number of aircraft. Used on transatlantic routes, Virgin says initial data shows the 787s are about 30% more fuel efficient than the A340-600s they are replacing.
Average noise output per aircraft movement measured 95.53dB in 2014, a reduction of 2.07dB since the 2012 baseline and is over a third of the way to a 6dB reduction target by 2020. The airline’s Aircraft Noise Management Strategy pledges to continue to implement and, where possible, increase the use of aircraft noise reducing procedures such as continuous descent operations (CDOs) and appropriate noise abatement practices.
The sustainability report notes Virgin Atlantic is planning a proving flight using sustainable jet fuel to be supplied by its partner LanzaTech as part of the fuel certification process currently underway and will mark what it hopes will be a significant step towards commercialisation. The LanzaTech technology converts waste carbon monoxide from industrial complexes such as steel mills into ethanol, which in turn is converted in a separate process to jet fuel. Life-cycle analysis shows the new fuel could have up to 60% lower emissions than conventional kerosene.
On the ground, the airline says it has cut energy use across all its UK sites by 23% since 2008-09, exceeding its target by nearly 12%. Last year, it diverted 92% of ground waste from landfill, including food waste that is now segregated and sent to anaerobic digesters.
Last year also marked a return to profitability for Virgin Atlantic. “Being an environmentally and socially responsible business is absolutely integral to our brand values, our people and our customers,” said Virgin Atlantic CEO Craig Kreeger, announcing the report. “Our latest sustainability figures show that profitability can be de-coupled from carbon, which is fantastic news for our airline and our industry.”