Virgin magnate Richard Branson is optimistic that the aviation industry can become carbon neutral ‘sooner than people realise’, despite environmental scepticism surrounding the sector.
Speaking to the Observer on board Virgin Atlantic’s first flight from London to Tel Aviv, Branson said he disagrees with people who say that the aviation industry will never be made wholly carbon neutral.
Branson told the newspaper that Virgin aims to go “net zero by 2050”. “We’ve been very clear, and I think we should try to make it less than that,” he said.
He noted that realistically, people are not going to stop flying and so it is “critical” to enable people to fly as environmentally friendly as possible.
Branson’s efforts to create a more environmentally sustainable industry include lobbying to get government to impose the equivalent of a carbon tax on all companies in Britain and to have the companies invest 100% of that money directly into green energy, he said.
Virgin Atlantic has also been investing in a more modern fleet which has includes aircraft with around 25% to 30% reduced fuel burn.
Branson does not believe that “completely battery-driven” short-haul planes are “hypotheticals”.
He said that it is about “getting the quantity”: “We need to make sure we get the trillions and trillions needed to speed up the processes of all these things.”
“Some people think that every other problem apart from aviation in the world will be ticked, and aviation will never be ticked. I disagree: I think aviation can also be carbon neutral, and sooner than people realise.”
In a blog post on Virgin's website last week, Branson wrote: "We believe there should be more competition at Heathrow but that any growth there (and at other airports) must be responsible and driven by a mission to reduce carbon emissions across the industry.
"To achieve this, Virgin Atlantic has been working hard in the background for years to reduce its emissions – realising early on that being as efficient as we can is not only better for the environment, but it’s better for business.
"From 2007-2018 we reduced total aircraft CO2 by 21% - but we want to go further, and quickly. By 2024 Virgin Atlantic will have one of the youngest and cleanest fleets in the sky, evidence of how seriously we take this challenge."