In its 2013 sustainability programme update, published this week, the airline states that last year its CO2 emissions per passenger kilometre (PK) fell to 119.3g.

This is “interesting”, the company states, given that in the UK the average new car emissions were “133.1gCO2/km in 2012”.

The airline said the fall in UK emissions is due to carrying “more passengers at higher load factors”.

Virgin also confirmed that it continues to cut its overall carbon footprint – 80% of which comes from flying. Huge investment in new, more efficient aircraft has cut CO2 by 30% in some cases, it said.

Environmental groups have questioned whether Virgin is focusing on the wrong impacts, with more people flying than ever before. The company’s carbon footprint, though reduced by 6% since 2007, still stands at 5.9m tonnes.

WWF-UK head of business, Dax Lovegrove, told that Virgin Atlantic and other airlines should “focus less on per passenger and per kilometre CO2 efficiencies and more on managing the overall carbon footprint from the general rise in passengers travelling over great distances”.

He cited a raft of changes that are required to ensure “climate smart mobility” including electric vehicles, better public transport and more car sharing. Indeed, a Virgin spokeswoman admitted that the car emissions are based on one person travelling in the car.

Aviation emissions have doubled since 1990 due to increasing passenger demand, with most growth coming from international flights, according to the Committee on Climate Change.

In 2011 the aviation sector accounted for 6% of total greenhouse gas emissions in the UK, with the vast majority (95%) resulting from international flights.

Writing in the company’s 2013 sustainability update, Virgin Atlantic CEO Craig Kreeger claimed: “We fully accept our part in reducing the negative consequences of air travel so that we can all continue to make the most of its benefits. Our number one priority is to reduce the carbon emissions from flying our aircraft.”

Earlier this month, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) agreed on a global strategy to progress technology, operations and alternative fuels in a bid to reduce emissions.
However, the European Commission’s proposal to have foreign airlines included in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS) was opposed by China, India, Russia and the US, who argue that the scheme impacts flights far outside the EU.

Virgin Atlantic also confirmed that work on its low carbon aviation fuel, in partnership with LanzaTech, continues; the aim is to make the fuel “a commercial reality” within the next couple of years.

The technology uses a microbe to convert waste carbon monoxide gases from
steel mills into ethanol. The alcohol is then converted to jet fuel through a second stage process.

edie staff

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