Virgin America CEO on carbon limits for aviation
- Aug 22, 2011
David Cush, President and CEO of Virgin America, is pushing forward with new technology and the latest best practices to help the new American carrier reduce its carbon footprint. Here is an interview with David, that originally appeared in Txchnologist, about his views on the future of carbon caps for the aviation industry and NextGen technology.
There’s been a lot of talk in the European Union of reducing aircraft emissions. How is that affecting the thinking of U.S. carriers like Virgin America?
It affects us tangentially. If there’s a clearly defined carbon regime in Europe and U.S. airlines are forced to follow those rules then ultimately that will have an effect in the U.S. These things tend to start somewhere and then spread to the rest of the developed nations. My gut feeling is the E.U. is just a bit ahead of the U.S.
As opposed to the majority of U.S. airlines, we actually support limits on carbon. Our view is that if the industry does not clean itself up we’ll become a pariah. The industry has never done a good job at self-policing. So the short answer is, we’re supportive of it because we think the industry does need to become greener.
Is that why Virgin America moved recently to purchase the Leap-X engine?
Absolutely. Clearly economics were also a big part of it. The engine is very efficient from a fuel burn standpoint and fuel cost has a disproportionate effect on our airline because we’re a long haul carrier. That said, certainly the green aspect was an important aspect of it. When you look at the fuel efficiency, the carbon efficiency and the improved NOx output as well, as well as the reduced noise footprint; All of that makes the Leap-X California friendly.
Where is Virgin on biofuels?
Obviously we’re interested in something that does not have a negative impact on food prices and that is not overly burdensome on the land itself.
All of that being said, I think biofuel is the Holy Grail. It reduces our reliance on volatile suppliers of crude. Secondly, biofuel burns so much cleaner than petroleum and that solves our green problems. We’re not really of the size where we can drive development of it but we certainly support the others that are doing that. And when we have the opportunity, we plan on voting with our checkbook.
Your A320 planes have low-density seating, which customers love, but there’s a corresponding increase in carbon emissions per passenger. Are passenger comfort and green flight conflicting goals?
Ultimately they need to be in lockstep with each other. People are becoming more and more concerned with the quality and comfort of air travel. If we have a green alternative out there that is uncomfortable or more expensive, the market is never going to accept it. So we need to make green travel attractive to consumers also.
Sir Richard Branson is a private space flight visionary. Does the prospect of two-hour suborbital flights from San Francisco to Paris factor into your planning for Virgin America?
It’s too far in the future for us. We thought we were being visionary being the first out there with the LEAP-X engine. We’re not quite visionary enough to talk about suborbital flights to Paris. That said, if you can’t dream and you can’t have vision like he has, then you don’t accomplish great things. So I’m glad someone’s thinking about it, it’s just not so much me right now.