Virgin Atlantic Goes for Fewer Engines, Fewer Emissions, Less Fuel

Environment, Virgin Atlantic

It seems like just yesterday Richard Branson was touting how his (Virgin Atlantic’s) planes were better because they all had four engines, unlike those British Airways 777s. He even painted it on his planes. 07_04_27 4engines4longhaulYou might recognize the picture on the left as a former integral part of the livery on the 4 engine A340-600.

Well, apparently he’s changed his mind.

Earlier this week, Branson entered into the environmentally (and pocketbook) friendly agreement with Boeing to order 15 787-9s with options for 8 more and purchase rights for 20 more. The 787 is going to theoretically be a rock star when it comes to fuel consumption, so Branson just couldn’t keep justifying the A340 “4 engine” thing any longer. I say theoretically because we haven’t actually seen the thing fly yet.

But being the shrewd businessman that he is, he’s not just calling this an aircraft order. Nay. It’s an environmental partnership.


Well, I suppose you could say that just ordering the highly fuel-efficient aircraft is environmentally friendly, but he’s doing another couple of things as well. First, next year there will be a demonstration of biofuels in one of the Virgin 747s. I’m not sure how this is a partnership with Boeing because it’s the GE engines that really need to run on the fuels, but whatever.

Second, he’s still pushing ways to cut fuel burn on the ground. Boeing will now join Branson in his quest to get aircraft towed to “starting gates” near the end of the runway. That way they don’t need to turn on the engines until they’re ready to go. Again, I’m not sure what this has to do with Boeing since last time I checked, Boeing didn’t run any airports. Maybe they’re going to help modify the aircraft to make this easier?

No matter what, Branson is a very shrewd businessman. He knows that calling something environmentally friendly is going to get big press coverage these days. In reality, this is one of the glorious times where doing what’s right for the environment is also doing what’s right for the bank account. When that happens, it’s good news all around.

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