Virgin criticised by environmental groups for introducing Heathrow to Manchester flights
Virgin Atlantic’s plans to start 3 commercial flights per day from London to Manchester have been sharply criticised by green groups who claim this will push up CO2 emissions. Such short flights are hugely fuel inefficient, given most fuel is burnt during the high component of take-offs and landings on short shuttle flights. They questioned how the service squares with Richard Branson’s stated aim to make Virgin the world’s most sustainable airline by 2020, and argued that the new service called into question the case for expansion at Heathrow. A Green Party spokesperson said using rail instead for short haul destinations would free up capacity at Heathrow for new connections to emerging markets, removing the need for a new hub. The Campaign for Better Transport said we should be making sure that rail is the mode of choice for all journeys between Manchester and London, not contemplating more flights for such a short distance.
Virgin’s plans for UK domestic flights run into green turbulence
Environmental groups argue new routes from London to Manchester and Scotland are flying in the face of the company’s green commitments
21 Aug 2012
Virgin Atlantic’s plans to start commercial flights from London to Manchester have today been sharply criticised by green groups who claim the service will push up emissions.
The airline announced its first foray into domestic services this morning, just days after Virgin Trains lost out on its valuable West Coast rail franchise to First Group.
The company said it plans to offer three daily return flights between Heathrow and Manchester from March 2013, while flights from the capital to Edinburgh and Aberdeen could also be up and running by the summer.
Virgin is applying for the 12 take-off and landing slots British Airways was forced to give up to obtain EU approval for its takeover of UK carrier bmi earlier this year.
In a statement, chief executive Steve Ridgway said the new service would “provide strong competition to overly-dominant BA; keep fares low and give consumers a genuine choice of airline to fly to Heathrow and beyond”.
However, green campaigners said such short flights are hugely fuel inefficient, given most fuel is burnt during the frequent take-offs and landings on short shuttle flights.
They also questioned how the service squares with Richard Branson’s stated aim to make Virgin the world’s most sustainable airline by 2020, and argued that the new service called into question the case for expansion at Heathrow.
A spokeswoman for the Green Party told BusinessGreen that replacing the almost 100,000 annual flights to destinations such as Edinburgh, Manchester, and Paris with rail journeys would not only reduce emissions but also free up capacity at Heathrow for new connections to emerging markets, removing the need for a new hub airport or expanded capacity.
“We are very disappointed Richard Branson doesn’t understand flying inter-city within the same country doesn’t do anything to help [reduce] CO2 emissions,” she said. “We should be reducing short-haul flights not encouraging people to take more.”
Jean Leston, senior transport policy officer at WWF UK, added: “Virgin’s new route to Manchester shows yet again how the airlines are creating a rod for their own backs by adding new domestic routes that clog up capacity that’s better used for new long haul routes… [and] not adding carbon needlessly to our skies.”
Meanwhile, Jane Thomas, a senior campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said the proposed £32bn high-speed rail link to Birmingham, Manchester and the North, known as HS2, would make internal flights redundant.
“Encouraging people to use trains is environmentally sensible and it also makes good sense when you have good existing networks,” she toldBusinessGreen. “HS2 would increase connectivity further and negate any case for short haul flights.”
Her thoughts were echoed by Richard Hebditch, campaign director at the Campaign for Better Transport.
“We should be making sure that rail is the mode of choice for all journeys between Manchester and London, not contemplating more flights for such a short distance,” he said. “Whoever runs the west coast mainline, travelling by rail has to make more sense.”
A Virgin Atlantic spokeswoman insisted the company would be looking to procure fuel efficient planes for the new flights, adding that the routes would not compromise the company’s target of reducing carbon emissions 30 per cent per passenger mile by 2020 as outlined in its “Change in the Air” sustainability plan.
“We continue to be focused on our ‘Change is in the Air’ sustainability programme – which will also apply to any new operations – a large part of which is about operating the most efficient fleet available,” she said in an emailed statement.
“On this route, we will be operating a narrow-body Airbus aircraft which is well suited to short haul service due to its fuel efficiency performance. We will also be introducing other more fuel efficient aircraft across our fleet, in particular with the 2014 introduction of Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners, which are 27 per cent more fuel efficient on a per seat basis.”
One of the comments:
High speed rail alone is not green. Any green credentials for HS2 will come from various variables such as modal shift from air, at present forecasts show a low 7%, and in fact a high percentage of HS2 journeys are forecast to be new leisure trips (encouraging new travel is not green). To be green Electric trains would also have to rely on a decarbonised grid which we do not at present have in this country; French trains use Nuclear power. It has been said in the HSR debate that HS2, phase 1 will be at best carbon neutral dependent on above factors. The transport industry has to look across the board to determine our green credentials, it is not practical to imagine either or situations but look at what we can do in all areas. It appears that HS2 alone will not solve our carbon issues, in fact the destructive nature of its construction will have a negative carbon impact.