We're committed to reducing our aircraft CO2 emissions* by 30% by 2021.

The biggest difference we can make right now is through the aircraft themselves.  We’ve been upgrading our fleet for several years – bringing new, more efficient aircraft into service and retiring older less efficient ones.  Through a combination of aircraft and engine efficiencies and network planning to optimise passenger numbers and cargo loads, each aircraft is around 30% more fuel efficient per trip than the aircraft they are replacing.

*per Revenue Tonne Kilometre

Our focus on fuel doesn’t stop there.

For years we’ve been watching our onboard weight, optimising aircraft cleaning and maintenance, and advising our pilots how to fly more efficiently. All of these things can reduce the fuel we use on each flight. And we’re looking to the future of fuels too.  In pursuit of a truly low carbon jet fuel solution, we’ve been working with cleantech company LanzaTech since 2011, on their process to convert industrial waste gases and other plentiful wastestreams into low carbon jet fuel. 

Of course, aircraft carbon emissions are not the only environmental considerations for our business. We also measure and report on waste, water and noise for both our aircraft and ground operations in our annual Change is in the Air Sustainability Report. And you can learn about these exciting initiatives in our case studies below.

Virgin Atlantic and LanzaTech make history with the first commercial flight using LanzaTech's innovative sustainable aviation fuel.

Play video Economy
Video poster image

Flying on waste

Love to travel, but conscious of your carbon footprint? Join our Cabin Service Supervisor Simon Cowley on his quest to find out how Virgin Atlantic are investing in new fleet and sustainable fuels. And learn how you can help too.

Play video Economy
Video poster image

Three steps to tackle our footprint

From heat pumps to hybrid cars - how our office spaces are helping us to reduce the energy and carbon emissions from our ground operations.

Play video Economy
Video poster image

Sustainability in our offices

Case studies

Our fleet

By far the biggest thing we do to reduce our emissions is our investment in aircraft. We have undertaken a massive fleet renewal programme, to replace our entire fleet over a ten year period, switching from four-engine aircraft to much more efficient two-engine aircraft. We continue to take delivery of 787-9 aircraft, while preparations for 12 new A350-1000s are underway in earnest. Through a combination of aircraft and engine efficiencies and network planning to optimise passenger numbers and cargo loads, each aircraft is around 30% more fuel efficient per trip than the aircraft they are replacing.

We’re proud to say that with changes like these, we continue to reduce our aircraft carbon emissions.  You can read about our latest results here.

Efficient Flying

There are a host of things our Captains can do to fly efficiently and reduce our aircraft carbon emissions. Here are just a few:

  • Single engine taxi

    We don’t always need all our engines running to taxi to the runway. Depending on the aircraft, we can use just one or two engines to move from the stand to the airfield before take off. So, we’ve now updated our pilots’ guidance manuals across our Airbus fleet, and during 2016 this change saved 185 tonnes of CO2.
  • Altitude optimisation

    How we fly from A to B has a big impact on the fuel we use and our carbon emissions.  We’ve recently given our pilots access to updated and customised wind and temperature information, which means they can better optimise their flight.  Changing our altitude to more favourable wind conditions can improve fuel efficiency during the flight, and we estimate this could save 3,500 tonnes of CO2 per year. Having successfully trialled this approach, we’re rolling it out across our fleet.
  • Our Captains’ efficient flying study

    In 2016, we published the results of an evidence based study which engaged airline captains in fuel and carbon-saving initiatives. We teamed up with academics at the London School of Economics and the University of Chicago to come up with a new approach for delivering fuel and carbon efficiency information to our Captains to help reduce emissions.

    The results were staggering: over the course of the eight month study, we saved more than 6,800 tonnes of fuel, 21,500 tonnes of carbon emissions, and a healthy £3 million.

    This study was published by the academic teams, and you can read a summary of that research here.  And in 2018, we were delighted to receive the edie Sustainability Leaders Award for Employee Engagement and Behaviour Change for this work.

While huge advances have been made in aircraft fuel efficiency in recent decades, there are limits to what can be further achieved with current airframe and engine technologies.  This means the next big drop in airline carbon emissions is likely to come in the way aircraft are powered. Namely, through the development of sustainable aviation fuels.

We’ve been working with exciting cleantech company LanzaTech since 2011 to support development of their novel approach to produce low carbon fuels from waste carbon gases. Their approach is to first convert waste carbon monoxide (CO) gas from heavy industry facilities like steel mills into ethanol. Ethanol can be used for a variety of applications, including the production of aviation fuel.   

In 2016, we were delighted to report that LanzaTech produced the first batch of jet fuel (4000 USG).  This fuel has a fantastic sustainability profile, with few land, food or water competition issues.  Initial life cycle analysis (an assessment of the environmental impacts of the entire process from fuel production to end use) also shows that the new LanzaJet fuel could have up to 75% lower CO2 emissions than conventional kerosene.

 

Early in 2018, LanzaTech’s jet fuel achieved ASTM qualification for use on commercial flights as a 50% blend, and we were delighted in October 2018 to be able to fly our first flight using LanzaTech’s fuel. This is a significant step in the development of the fuel for commercial use, which we look forward to building on through 2018 and 2019.

Food and catering waste.

Because of robust disease control regulations for managing food-related waste from different countries, dealing with longhaul international aircraft waste is particularly tricky.  For example, by law anything that has touched meat or other animal products, like dairy products or honey (or its packaging), which arrives into the UK from outside the European Union, has to be completely isolated and destroyed. The standard rule is that Cat 1 waste must be taken away by the catering companies and deep landfilled or incinerated. Not only that, but multiple stakeholders are involved, such as airports, other airlines using the same terminals, aircraft cleaning companies and onboard catering companies. Everyone has to work together to get results. Easier said than done, but we’re making progress.

 

High value recyclables.

Over 15 years ago, a bright spark at Virgin Atlantic Airways noticed the growing amount of waste produced by onboard products and saw an opportunity for a more holistic approach – to reduce, reuse and recycle.  So he set up MNH Sustainable Cabin Services and we’ve been working with them ever since.

MNH is passionate about greener business practices and since 2008, they’ve helped us reduce the total amount of cabin waste we produce through:

  • more innovative product design
  • investing in reusable rather than disposable products
  • putting pristine unused products back into service
  • Smarter loading of products, in line with our customer numbers and product use
  • Change for children envelopes

MNH redesigned our Change for Children charity collection envelope to fit neatly around our headsets. This simple but effective, multi-purpose ‘Envowrap’ is manufactured on Forest Stewardship Council certified paper and when implemented across all cabins, over 12 tonnes of plastic will be avoided each year. That’s also 6.5 tonnes of onboard weight savings across our fleet. Less weight means we’ll use less fuel for each flight, so this change will reduce our carbon emissions too.

Next, they reuse what they can. The untouched goodies from our amenity kits are collected and repurposed to make up new ones. In 2016, over 1 million amenity kits were returned to MNH for recycling, and of those 55% were reassembled into full amenity kits and redistributed onto our flights.

And old surplus blankets were donated to In Kind Direct who delivered them to charities for homeless people or pet rescue shelters.

Finally, MNH look for the best ‘end of life’ option for the remaining cabin waste. MNH divert from landfill all the high value recyclables they receive from us, using stringent raw material segregation and recycling, as well as creatively sourcing alternative uses for bulk materials that do not fit traditional recycling waste streams. MNH recycle our headsets, amenity kits, plastics, old magazines, menus and blankets – along with some other bits and bobs. Recycling can take products to unusual destinations. For example, the sponges from our headsets may soon be on their way to surface an equestrian centre, while plastics are used to make garden picnic benches, amongst other things.

 

Cabin waste.

This is the litter that gets left behind on flights. It potentially includes recyclables like newspapers, plastic cups, cans and other bits and pieces, but historically has also been treated as Cat 1, just in case it includes waste that has touched meat, dairy or other animal products. Most of this waste heads back through the airports, and in recent years, there’s been a lot of work done to deal with it. Through groups like the UK’s Sustainable Aviation industry group, many airports have ongoing trials on recycling this cabin waste.  These trials have shown mixed results, often due to the above challenges. Where recycling this waste isn’t possible, the next best option is to use it to make energy and many UK airports like Heathrow send this waste to offsite ‘energy from waste’ facilities. Gatwick has an onsite facility to use the energy generated from airport waste within the airport itself. This means our cabin waste will be used to create energy for our new Gatwick home at the North Terminal. 

In 2013, we were the first airline to set ourselves robust noise targets through our Aircraft Noise Management Strategy. Since then, we’ve been busy implementing our five pledges.

Pledge 1: Reduce noise output per aircraft movement by at least 6dB between 2012 and 2020

This is a 75% reduction in noise energy on average. You can read about our latest progress in our annual Change is in the Air Sustainability Report.

Pledge 2: Carry on implementing and, where possible, use more aircraft noise reducing procedures.

We work with our pilots to maximise the use of Continuous Descent Operations (CDO). CDO is an aircraft descent technique that reduces noise, fuel use and emissions.

Pledge 3: Continue to work with airports, making sure we mitigate noise for local communities and only allow appropriate developments take place.

We work closely with airports on the procedures and practices to mitigate noise, and engage with appropriate consultations.

Pledge 4:  Continue adopting appropriate noise abatement operational procedures on our night flight operations (in other words, help make our night flights quieter). And, through our company wide focus on ‘On Time Performance’, aim to minimise late running departures that could disturb local communities at night.

We continue to achieve our targets for on time performance (OTP). And we’ve been making the most of flying our quietest aircraft, the 787, on routes that impact communities the most. For example, we fly the 787 on our Hong Kong route, which lands early in the morning at London Heathrow.

Pledge 5: Engage with the local communities that our operations impact and carry on working collaboratively across industry groups.

We engage with organisations including parliamentarians, government departments, airports and their local consultative committees, on how we can deliver the commitments set out in our sustainability strategy - because we’ll only get there by working together.

Transforming our buildings

 

Our new head office – The VHQ, has been designed with sustainability in mind. Modern construction techniques have been coupled with an extensive building management system, LED lighting throughout, and installation of heat pump technology (removing the need for gas heating). These features have helped to create a modern, efficient office that has been rated excellent by BREEAM for its base build (BREEAM is the world’s leading sustainability assessment method for master planning buildings). The data we have so far shows some great energy savings, along with reduced water consumption, compared to our previous head office.

 

 

 

As well as our new VHQ, we’ve also been refurbishing The Base (our main training centre). The works are all part of the move out of our old headquarters, The Office, with several Operations & Technology teams moving over to The Base and increasing the occupancy by 200 people. The work has included switching to modern, energy efficient technologies such as fully replacing the old HVAC systems (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) and installing LED lighting.

 

We’ve also installed new LED lighting at our Gatwick hangar. We’ve estimated this will give us a saving of 310,000 kWh each year, a reduction of 19% against the old bulbs.

 

 

Car fleet

We have a fleet of around 200 vehicles made up of pool cars, sales cars, airport cars and light commercial vehicles (vans), with roughly a 50:50 split between cars and vans. Overall, our total number of vehicles has been fairly static since 2009, varying by about 10% over that period. In 2017, we began moving to a fully hybrid and electric car fleet and we expect to complete that transformation by 2020.

 

Ground waste

Whether it’s food waste or office furniture, we follow the waste hierarchy: reduce, reuse, recycle. We also include another ‘r’: recovery (for electricity or heat production) when the first three aren’t an option, since creating energy from waste is preferable to landfill.  You can read our latest results in our annual Change is in the Air Sustainability Report.

We knew that moving from our old headquarters, The Office, would generate a lot of waste. To reduce this as far as possible, we planned ahead and held a staff furniture sale, raising nearly £2,000 for our charity partner WE. The facilities team also were able to recycle 39 tonnes of electrical items and 205 tonnes of furniture. The remaining 22 tonnes were sent to an Energy from Waste facility.