Virgin has purchased 15 Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners, with an option to add a further 28 aircraft, to replace its A340-300 fleet.
Sir Richard Branson chose the occasion of the carrier's resumed flights to Chicago (a route previously plied by Virgin, but scrapped in 2001 following 9/11) to announce that the airline would phase out its A340-300 fleet from 2011, replacing it with the more noise and carbon-efficient Dreamliner.
The 787-9 is said to produce 27 per cent less fuel burn in the air, due to half of its construction material being made of carbon fibres – it is also thought to reduce in-air noise pollution by 60 per cent. Says Branson:
"The Dreamliner will bring a step change to the industry, substantially reducing environmental impact and incorporating innovative design and advanced technology, while providing an enhanced flying experience for our passengers."
The carrier also announced a partnership between Virgin Fuels, Boeing and GE Motors aimed at testing bio-fuel technology in a demonstration 747 flight as early as next year.
"Just two years ago the assumption was that bio-fuels couldn't be used to power jet engines," says Branson. "But views are changing, and developments have shown this can now be achieved."
Branson added that Virgin was continuing to investigate other methods of reducing carbon emissions, including the trial of towing aircraft to stands, and improved air traffic management.
The twin-engined, twin-aisled Dreamliner will have a capacity of between 250 and 290 passengers depending on configuration, and will feature the "biggest window in the sky, with individual dimming functions to reduce the amount of natural light entering the cabin", as well as improved air purification and humidity controls. Asked if the purchase of up to $8 billion of Boeing aircraft would affect Virgin's order of the delayed Airbus A380, Branson replied that the airline remained committed to adding the A380 aircraft to its fleet, with delivery expected within the next couple of years.
The introduction of the Dreamliner will also open up the possibility of new routes for the carrier, with Branson announcing that Virgin plans to fly direct from London to Perth from 2011, with a London-Hawaii route also under consideration.
Commenting on the forthcoming launch of Virgin America (a separate US company planning domestic flights within the United States, of which Branson is a minority shareholder), he said that the airline had satisfied "all the necessary requirements to allow it to begin operations", with a possible start date slated for July 4 (Independence Day). Branson also said that from 2008 Virgin will effectively be able to offer passengers round-the-world tickets, with Australian airline Virgin Blue due to start flights from Sydney to Los Angeles, from where passengers could connect with existing Virgin Atlantic flights.
For more information visit virginatlantic.com.
Report by Mark Caswell