Virgin Atlantic says 2020 carbon target on track as new aircraft and fuel efficiency measures deliver savings

Virgin Atlantic says 2020 carbon target on track as new aircraft and fuel efficiency measures deliver savings | Virgin Atlantic,OSyS,LanzaTech

New A330-300s are joining the Virgin Atlantic fleet, to be followed by Boeing 787 Dreamliners (photo: Virgin Atlantic)

Fri 9 Nov 2012 – Virgin Atlantic says it is on track to meet its target to reduce CO2 emissions per revenue-tonne kilometre (RTK) by 30 per cent by 2020 from 2007 levels. Actual aircraft emissions rose from 4.516 million tonnes of CO2 in the 2010/11 financial year to 4.617 million in 2011/12 as a result of the airline’s growing business although lower load factors due to the economic recession had an adverse impact on the amount of CO2 emitted per RTK. According to its latest sustainability report, Virgin Atlantic projects total emissions will peak and start to reduce from 2015/16 as new Airbus A330-300s and Boeing 787 Dreamliners join the fleet. The recent implementation of OSyS fuel efficiency software is forecast to further reduce CO2 emissions by 100,000 tonnes per year and save almost £20 million ($30m) in fuel costs. The airline also revealed that it hopes to carry out a demo flight in 2013 using sustainable biofuel supplied through its partnership with LanzaTech.

For the financial year to February 2012 the amount of CO2 emitted per passenger kilometre rose to 118.8 grams from 117.5 the previous year but a Virgin Atlantic spokesperson told GreenAir that there was an anomaly with the 2010/11 figure. She said 2010 was exceptional due to disruption from both the Icelandic ash cloud and snow at Heathrow and New York later that year.

“The knock-on effect was that in the weeks following those disruptions, we were flying at absolutely maximum load factors for both passengers and cargo and therefore looking at the RTK figures would give a skewed picture,” she said.

Virgin Atlantic forecasts a downward trend from now on and is looking to break through the 100 gram level towards the end of the decade as new generation aircraft enter the fleet. The airline has already taken delivery of four of the ten A330-300s ordered from Airbus, which are 9% per trip and 15% on a per seat basis more efficient than the models they have replaced. The first of 16 new Boeing 787s are due to enter the fleet in 2014, which are expected to be around 25% more efficient per trip and 27% more efficient on a per seat basis than similar-sized aircraft in the Virgin fleet.

The airline says fuel efficiency is the most crucial pillar in its sustainability plans and further improvements and information gleaned from the OSyS software should provide even more savings in the future. The software monitors 300 different points during each flight to show, for example, how arrival delays, holding patterns and ground activity impacts fuel burn, and how pilot technique, flight plans and maintenance activities can improve fuel efficiency.

Commenting on the Autumn 2012 Sustainability Report, Virgin Atlantic CEO Steve Ridgway, who is stepping down after 23 years with the airline, said: “Fuel use is our number one environmental issue, as well as a significant financial one. We have worked hard to develop innovative solutions to this matter and this is resulting in major benefits on two fronts as we reduce our carbon footprint and at the same time deliver major cost savings to the airline.”

To maximise load factors, which dipped to 77.8% in the 2011/12 financial year, Virgin Atlantic says it will be ensuring that the right aircraft with the most appropriate cabin configurations are chosen for each route. The new Upper Class section in the A330 aircraft, for example, has been fitted with an extra three seats as a result of design enhancements.

The airline has also adopted a number of operations and maintenance initiatives to improve fuel efficiency, such as aircraft cleaning and engine washing, as well as efficiency modifications to the Rolls-Royce engines on the A340-600 aircraft. Together with UK industry partners, it is planning to introduce a number of fuel-saving procedures such as continuous climb take-offs and will explore reduced-engine taxiing and minimising APU use at airports.

Reducing aircraft weight is another priority at the airline. The lighter airframe of the new A330s together with weight reductions in cabin monuments, seats and galleys have saved 1.3 tonnes per aircraft, and the amount of potable water carried onboard has been reduced by 25%. Lighter materials used in in-flight catering services have also delivered an average weight saving of 129kg per aircraft, equating to a potential fuel saving of 762 tonnes and 2,400 tonnes of CO2 a year.

A year ago, Virgin Atlantic entered into a partnership with advanced alternative fuels company LanzaTech (see article). The LanzaTech process converts steel waste gases to ultimately produce a sustainable jet fuel with around half the total lifecycle carbon content of kerosene. Classified as an alcohol-to-jet fuel, it has yet to be certified for commercial airline use but Virgin says it is hoping to use the fuel in a demo flight in 2013 and have the fuel available in commercial quantities by 2014. In the meantime, the partners are working on the technical fuel approval process and collaborating with the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels on sustainability certification.

On the ground, Virgin is targeting to reduce energy use by 10% in 2012 and 20% by 2020 relative to 2008/9, and up till 2011/12 had achieved a 10.85% reduction, so already exceeding the first goal. The airline says it is also making big inroads into reducing the amount of waste sent to landfill and recycling rates now stand at 68% of total waste, with a target of 75% by the end of 2012. In 2011, the airline reports it recycled over 16 tonnes of old staff uniforms into items such as filling for car seats, flocking and felting.

It is recruiting ‘green champions’ from around the airline to provide advice and suggestions on how to further reduce the company’s carbon footprint.

Nearly half the sustainability report is given over to the many social programmes Virgin Atlantic is involved with, covering charitable support, schools initiatives and international development projects in the third world. Last year was a record-breaking year for fundraising on behalf of its charity partner Free the Children, with over £1.5 million ($2.3m) raised through passenger donations, staff volunteering and flight and cargo assistance. As a result, the three-year partnership with the charity has been extended, with a key project being an Adopt a Village initiative with a new partner community in Ghana.

“We want to be one of the leading airlines on sustainability, driving solutions for our industry,” said Ridgway. “We are known for our innovation, and our adventurous spirit means we’re not afraid to push boundaries in following our sustainability agenda. An airline striving to be green is not the contradiction in terms that people may think and this report is a further statement of a commitment to meet those green ambitions.”

Virgin Atlantic – ‘Change is in the Air’ Sustainability Report



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