Virgin Atlantic records small decline in fuel efficiency as it awaits positive impact of new 787s and A350s
Virgin Atlantic A350-1000 (graphic: Airbus)
Wed 27 July 2016 – Although posting a strong financial performance last year after having moved back into profitability in 2014, long-haul carrier Virgin Atlantic suffered a blip last year when the overall fuel efficiency of its fleet declined marginally. The airline’s CO2 per revenue tonne-kilometre (RTK) in 2015 was measured at 0.791 kg, a 9% reduction since a 2007 baseline but a 1% increase on 2014. The fall in inefficiency was due to fleet and network changes, the later than expected entry into the fleet of new Boeing 787s and slightly lower passenger and cargo loads, says the airline. However, better progress was made on reducing the noise output of its aircraft and is on track towards reaching a 2020 target. The airline reports delays in the certification process is holding back a planned ‘proving’ flight using sustainable fuel produced by partner LanzaTech.
Virgin Atlantic’s headline goal is a 30% improvement in CO2 per RTK from 2007 to 2020 and although progress against the target did not go as expected, “the overall trend in this metric is one of improvement and CO2 per passenger-kilometre improved fractionally,” said the airline’s Sustainability Specialist, Jessica Cross Brown.
Carbon emissions from aircraft fuel burn in 2015 amounted to 4.4 million tonnes, a 4% decrease from the 4.6 million tonnes recorded in 2014. As well as indirect Scope 2 and 3 emissions, the airline’s latest ‘Change is in the Air’ 2016 sustainability report also, for the first time, publishes details on the carbon footprint of Virgin Holidays. The Virgin Atlantic sustainability team has taken on some of the responsibilities for some of Virgin Holiday’s sustainability initiatives.
The airline’s noise target is to reduce noise output per aircraft movement by at least 6dB – a 75% reduction in noise energy – on average between 2012 and 2020, and so far has achieved a reduction of 2.25dB.
By the end of 2015, Virgin Atlantic had nine Boeing 787s in the fleet and four more are expected during 2016. However, the later than expected deliveries meant relatively inefficient four-engined A340-600s had to be kept in operation longer than had been planned. The airline also flew less cargo in 2015 than in previous years and the 787 also has a smaller cargo hold than the A340-600s, meaning less space for cargo on a number of long-haul routes. “This has made us slightly less efficient overall, as the highest levels of RTK efficiency are based on the highest loads of both passenger and cargo,” says Virgin Atlantic.
“We have forecasted a decrease year on year up until our target year of 2020. However, we realise with five years to go, it’s going to be tough. We will reassess all our targets later on in 2016 as part of our ongoing assessment to make sure they’re the most representative metrics for the company we are now.”
Two weeks ago it confirmed it was buying or leasing 12 new Airbus A350-1000 aircraft in a $4.4 billion investment, with deliveries expected to start in 2019.
“The aircraft will play a pivotal role in our fleet programme, helping to create one of the youngest, cleanest, greenest fleets in the sky,” commented the airline’s CEO, Craig Kreeger. “We’re looking forward to introducing this aircraft to our customers, as its impressive economics, fuel performance and quiet flying offer an irresistible proposition that makes long haul travel more enjoyable and better for the environment.”