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Branson’s burning with ideas

Sarah Gardner Sep 27, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: Sir Richard’s back in the news. British airline mogul Richard Branson shook up the industry last week after pledging $3 billion to fight global warming. He was in New York pushing his plan for airports. Branson says it could cut aviation pollution by 25 percent. From the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, Sarah Gardner has more.

SARAH GARDNER: Al Gore must be pretty convincing. After Richard Branson met with the former vice president, he not only committed billions to fight greenhouses gases, he’s now trying to rally the global airline industry to his cause:

RICHARD BRANSON:“We’ve come up with a series of ideas which we believe can cut aircraft emissions.”

The Virgin Airlines founder is calling for a worldwide aviation forum to “bang heads together” as he says, to cut down fuel use. One idea? The British entrepreneur says airplanes now waste tons of fuel “spewing CO2” while waiting an hour or more for takeoff. Branson’s proposing a “starting grid system.”

BRANSON“You’re towed by a small tug to the starting grid and then the pilot would turn on the engines 10 minutes before takeoff, and then takeoff. And we’ve worked out that on a global basis we’re talking about billions of tons of CO2 savings just on that idea alone.”

But it’s not clear whether Britain’s “rebel billionaire” can get this industry pow-wow off the ground. Today the chief trade group for U.S. airlines issued a polite but noncommittal statement noting that the industry is already working to improve fuel efficiency. Industry consultant Mike Boyd says airplanes contribute less than 3 percent of global greenhouse gases:

MIKE BOYD If Mr. Branson was really concerned with it, he’d be railing against the greenhouse gases that are being produced today in unregulated China, in unregulated India.”

Still, airliners are the fastest-growing source of greenhouses gases. Branson may be gambling that if the industry takes voluntary action it could preempt future regulation.

I’m Sarah Gardner for Marketplace.

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