Virgin Atlantic has revealed it has saved an impressive 30 per cent in CO2 on many of its flights last year, thanks to the first stage of a $7 billion investment into its fleet upgrade programme.

The figures are revealed in the airline’s 2014 Change is In the Air Sustainability Report, published today, which covers the airline’s first full year of flying its new fleet of A330-300s in 2013.

Virgin Atlantic moved from an entirely four engine fleet and introduced 10 new twin engine Airbus 300-300s between 2011 and the end of 2012. These aircraft now make up a quarter of its fleet and are around 30% more efficient on a per trip basis than the Airbus 340-600s they’ve replaced.

Today’s report shows Sir Richard Branson’s airline is moving steadily towards its target of achieving 30% savings in CO2 for every tonne of passengers and cargo flown by 2020*, with a reduction of 8% since with 2007 and by 4% in the last year alone.

The significant fuel savings Virgin Atlantic is already seeing will be further enhanced by the introduction of the Boeing 787-9 aircraft, which are around 20 per cent more fuel efficient on a per trip basis than the aircraft they’ll replace. The 787-9s will also help the airline to be good neighbours as they have a 60% smaller noise footprint than similar sized aircraft – Virgin Atlantic’s aircraft is the first ever to be awarded a Quiet Mark accreditation in recognition of this. Virgin Atlantic has just taken delivery of its first Dreamliner and intends to add 20 more to its fleet by 2018.

Virgin Atlantic Chief Executive Craig Kreeger said: “As an airline we have a huge responsibility to ensure we find long term solutions to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and make sure any growth happens in a sustainable way. Our new aircraft have been key players in helping to reduce our carbon emissions and we are excited about the further efficiencies our new fleet of Boeing 787-9s will bring as we look to 2018 when these new aircraft will make up two thirds of our fleet.

“Our people at Virgin Atlantic are passionate about the airline leading on sustainability, and the teams all work extremely hard to push the boundaries in finding sustainable aviation solutions. We all want Virgin Atlantic to continue to drive innovative solutions for the whole industry and we will continue to work hard to deliver that.”

Fuel and carbon efficiency is Virgin Atlantic’s number one environmental issue, as well as a significant financial one, with fuel accounting for by far the greatest proportion of the airline’s operating costs. Improving fuel efficiency will be a key element as the airline looks to achieve record profitability by 2018.

New, more efficient aircraft will make the greatest contribution in the CO2 savings required to hit the airline’s 2020 target. In addition, the airline recently announced the next step in its world-first, sustainable fuel partnership with LanzaTech. With the support of HSBC, a proving flight will take to the skies in 2015, with the aim of making the fuel a commercial reality.

Another key element of Virgin Atlantic’s ‘Change is in the Air’ sustainability programme is its work with inspirational charity partner Free The Children. In 2013 Virgin Atlantic Foundation raised £1.3 million in customer donations, staff fundraising, and volunteering time. 2013 was an incredible year for staff engagement when Virgin Atlantic employees ran, swam, trekked and cycled over 24,000 miles for charity, which is equivalent to going once round the earth!

Within its report, Sir Richard Branson’s airline also revealed that:

  • The airline has cut its energy use across all its UK sites by over 15%, hitting its ground energy reduction target a year early. This translates to a 23% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Through innovative solutions to waste management the airline has diverted 82% of its ground waste from landfill. This includes food waste which is now segregated and sent to anaerobic digesters. The airline also recycles as much aircraft waste as possible and finds innovative ways to do so. This includes the headphone sponges going to equestrian centres to be used as flooring. 
  • Virgin Atlantic’s international development projects in eight villages in rural India, China, Ghana and Kenya are providing 2,069 families with the skills and means to help them become self-sufficient. 2,040 children now attend school regularly, retrained 42 teachers, built and equipped 23 classrooms. 9,770 people now have access to clean water. 3,089 trees have been planted and 60 community gardens have been established.