Biofueled planes coming soon

Virgin Airlines plane

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

SCOTT JAGOW: The British airline Virgin is supposed to announce a big order from Boeing today, a couple dozen 787 Dreamliners. 787s are more fuel efficient than other models like 747s. And Virgin is also announcing that next year it'll begin testing planes that run on biofuel. Our European correspondent Stephen Beard joins us from London. Stephen, tell us more about what Virgin's up to here.

STEPHEN BEARD: Richard Branson, the boss of Virgin Airlines, says that a joint venture that he has with Boeing and General Electric will get the first commercial jet powered by biofuels in the air by next year. It's a 747. It'll be flying experimentally by 2008 and, says Branson, within five years biofueled jets could be operating commercially.

JAGOW: Wow I mean the talk before was that it was going to take a decade before these planes were in the air. What happened?

BEARD: Well undoubtedly there's been a huge amount of pressure building up on the airline industry, especially in Europe. Moves are afoot to cap the carbon emissions of the airlines and to force them to take part in the carbon trading system. And there's a lot of public pressure building up too. I mean there's a lot of guilt, seems to be associated in Europe with flying. Increasingly consumers are saying, what are we doing to the atmosphere when we fly off three or four times a year for our vacations? Even though it must be said that aviation globally at the moment is only contributing something like 3 or 5 percent of total emissions. But there is this consumer guilt building up and indeed a prominent British churchman even went so far as to say that flying in these circumstances could be regarded as sinful.

JAGOW: Huh. Well what kind of biofuel are they using?

BEARD: Not ethanol. Apparently it doesn't work well at altitude, so not so good as an aircraft fuel. They're testing up to eight different biofuels and they're confident they're gonna get the right one but as yet they're not sure which one it's going to be.

JAGOW: And the rest of the industry will follow suit here?

BEARD: Well the pressures as we've said are building on the industry, and in fact this week there's a major gathering involving all the major airlines in Europe to talk about climate change and how the industry can adapt to the challenge of climate change, so it does look as if Virgin's move is going to be followed by quite a few others.

JAGOW: Alright Stephen thank you.

BEARD: OK Scott.

JAGOW: Our European correspondent Stephen Beard.

About the author

Stephen Beard is the European bureau chief and provides daily coverage of Europe’s business and economic developments for the entire Marketplace portfolio.

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