Virgin Atlantic makes gains on emissions reductions and fuel efficiency improvements as new aircraft join fleet
Mon 14 May 2018 – Carbon emissions from Virgin Atlantic’s aircraft fleet were reduced by 2.5% in 2017 to just under 4 million tonnes of CO2, the lowest since they peaked at nearly 5.2 million tonnes in 2007, when the airline started its ‘Change is in the Air’ sustainability programme. Fuel efficiency improved by 1.8% compared to the previous year – so exceeding the IATA industry 1.5% goal – to reach 0.711 kg CO2 per revenue tonne kilometre (CO2/RTK). The airline has a target to reduce aircraft CO2/RTK by 30% by 2020 from the 2007 baseline. It attributes the drop in emissions to a small reduction in the flying programme and the ongoing fleet renewal of replacing four-engine aircraft with more fuel efficient twin-engine alternatives.
“At Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Holidays, we love being able to bring people together, delivering incredible experiences and supporting globally connected economies. We know this comes with environmental responsibilities,” said Craig Kreeger, Chief Executive, in the introduction to the travel group’s latest 2018 sustainability report.
“Reducing our carbon emissions is not only the right thing to do for the environment, society and generations to come, with aircraft fuel being our largest single cost, it also makes perfect business sense.”
As well as a reduction in CO2 per RTK, CO2 emissions per passenger kilometre fell from 78.9 grams in 2016 to 78.2 in 2017, a 0.9% reduction and marking a 22.4% reduction since 2007. The airline points out that the emissions of an average new car in the UK in 2016 were 120.1 grams of CO2 per kilometre on a single occupancy basis.
Virgin Atlantic’s direct (Scope 1) and indirect (Scopes 2 and 3) carbon footprint in 2017 totalled 5.5 million tonnes of CO2e, with a further near 300,000 tonnes from the Virgin Holidays business. Aircraft emissions were responsible for 68.7% of combined company emissions and more than 99% of Scope 1 emissions.
Last year, Virgin Atlantic added another Boeing 787-9 to the fleet, bringing the total to 14, with three more 787-9s and 12 A350-1000s to be phased in over the next four years. Through a combination of aircraft and engine efficiencies and network planning to optimise passenger numbers and cargo loads, each aircraft is around 30% more fuel efficient per trip than the aircraft they are replacing, it says. Other ongoing measures include watching onboard weight, optimising aircraft cleaning and maintenance, and advising pilots on flying more efficiently.
“We also know that the next big opportunity to reduce aircraft carbon emissions will come from breakthroughs in sustainable aviation fuel,” said Kreeger. “We have been working with cleantech company LanzaTech since 2011, actively supporting the scale up of their process to convert industrial waste gases and other plentiful waste streams into low carbon jet fuel.”
The sustainability report notes that in 2017 Virgin Atlantic started preparations for the new ICAO global Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA), which between 2021 and 2035 “will raise billions of dollars for high quality carbon reduction projects around the world.”