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Branson announces ‘greener’ plane deal

Virgin tycoon buys more fuel efficient jets


Branson and Boeing launch biofuel

Virgin Atlantic boss Sir Richard Branson has pledged to make his airline more environmentally friendly after announcing a deal worth up to eight billion US dollars (£4 billion) to replace the bulk of the airline’s fleet with ‘greener’, more fuel efficient Boeing jets.

The airline is set to buy up to 43 Boeing 787 Dreamliners, which burn about 27 per cent less fuel per passenger than the Virgin Atlantic aircraft they are to replace.

The deal forms part of a wider ‘environmental partnership’ between Boeing and Virgin Atlantic that will also see the group team up with engine maker GE to lead a green jet fuel initiative.

The firms aim to design bio-fuel that can be tested in a Boeing 747-400 aircraft by the end of next year – a move which would be the first time bio-fuel has been used to run a commercial plane.

‘Green’ fuel

Virgin Atlantic said it hoped the first passengers could even be flying in aircraft run on the green jet fuel within two years if the tests prove successful.

Sir Richard said: ‘We’re at the start of what I believe is a new era for the aviation industry and for the environment. We all have a responsibility to reduce our carbon footprint and doing nothing should not be an option for an airline.’

The deal with Boeing will see the group order 15 Dreamliners initially, with the option to buy another 28.

Virgin Atlantic said Rolls-Royce and General Electric would be bidding to win the contract to supply engines for the aircraft.

The airline stressed that while the Dreamliners would replace many less fuel-efficient jets, it would still retain its Airbus A340-600 aircraft and remained committed to an existing order to buy Airbus A380s from 2016.

Boeing Dreamliner

Boeing’s Dreamliner is designed using a lighter material to help it burn less fuel and will run on twin engines rather than four in a bid to be more eco-friendly.

The aircraft, which can carry up to 290 passengers, also has greater long-range capability and is set to see Virgin Atlantic launch the first non-stop direct flight to Australia when the first Dreamliner deliveries come on stream from 2011.

The Boeing deal and biofuel initiative form part of a drive by Sir Richard to clean up the airline industry and reduce carbon emissions.

Sir Richard Branson also said he would go head to head with low cost rivals planning to undercut the airline by offering ‘no frills’ flights to US.

‘No frills’ flights

The business tycoon said he would ‘not be beaten on price’ by low cost carriers after Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary said he was planning to offer long haul transatlantic flights from as little as £7 one way within four years.

Sir Richard said: ‘If someone launches a £7 flight, we’ll launch a £6 flight. We will not be beaten on price.’

Carriers such as Ryanair have previously focused exclusively on the short haul market, but the recent ‘open skies’ deal between the European Union and the US to liberate the heavily restricted transatlantic route has opened up the possibility of cheap long haul flights to America.

Virgin is planning to take advantage of the deal itself by expanding the airline’s Europe to US offering and says it was considering launching flights from key hubs such as Paris, Frankfurt, Amsterdam and Madrid to New York within two years.

The airline also this week relaunched its Heathrow to Chicago route, alongside adding a second daily service to Washington’s Dulles International Airport.

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