Virgin America Reaches 15% Fuel Efficiency Gains

Virgin America announced this week that it has chosen CFM International’s efficient new LEAP turbofan engine for 30 new Airbus A320neo aircraft that are scheduled for delivery starting in 2016. The order secures Virgin America as the launch customer for the new engine. The airline’s President and CEO, David Cush, claims the combination of aircraft and engine will introduce one of the world’s most fuel efficient commercial planes when it goes into service.

Already, Virgin America’s fleet of current generation A320s using the CFM56 engine is up to 25% more fuel efficient than fleets operated by other US domestic airlines, and the next generation A320neo coupled with the LEAP engine, will be 15% more efficient still.

PR Newswire details the airline projects savings of approximately 3,600 tons of CO2 emissions, along with $1.9 million dollars in fuel savings at today’s prices – both estimates are on a per aircraft per year basis.  Airlines and Destinations reports the engine will be 15 decibels quieter, and emit 50% less nitrogen oxide, while other benefits include enhanced reliability and cheaper maintenance costs.

Since 2007, when Virgin America was founded, the airline has paid close attention to its sustainability record. It was the first airline to report its own own emissions data via The Climate Registry, and operates out of a LEED Silver-certified headquarters. The airline is affiliated with Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, which has made the commitment to invest all profits from Virgin transport related businesses to renewable fuel research. Ceres, a nonprofit organization that leads a national coalition of investors, environmental organizations and other public interest groups, says the airline continues to be the industry leader in making air travel more sustainable.

Air travel is, of course, inherently carbon intensive. The International Air Transport Association (IATA), states that total CO2 emissions in 2010 reached 649 million tons, up from 627 million tons in 2009 – a 3.5% increase. This translates to 2% of of global man-made CO2 emissions, and IATA quotes the IPCC’s projection that this figure will rise to 3% of total emissions by mid-century. With air travel bound to have a greater environmental impact in the future, Virgin America’s choice of aircraft and engine supplier is an important effort towards CO2 mitigation.

Phil Covington holds an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School. In the past, he spent 16 years in the freight transportation and logistics industry. Today, Phil's writing focuses on electric vehicles and sustainable business matters in general. Twitter: @PhilCovBlog