Virgin tests greener starting grids

Virgin Atlantic announced that its aircraft would be carrying out test trials throughout December on so-called “starting grids”, which are aimed at reducing fuel burn and CO2 emissions in the aviation industry.

Proposals for “starting grids” were unveiled by the Virgin Atlantic Chairman, Sir Richard Branson, at the end of September. A “starting grid” is a holding area, close to a runway, consisting of several parking bays for aircraft.

It means that aircraft can be towed closer to a runway before take-off, substantially reducing the time that engines need to be running. An aircraft would only need to start its engines once on the grid, around 10 minutes before actual take-off.

The test trials, at both London’s Heathrow and London’s Gatwick Airports, will take place throughout December on a series of Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747-400 departures. Virgin Atlantic is working alongside BAA and NATS during the trials, which are aimed at validating the operational procedures needed for “starting grids” in order for them to become commonplace. A longer, more detailed trial is then expected to take place in the first quarter of 2007.

Teams from Virgin Atlantic are also holding talks with the international airports in San Francisco and Los Angeles, as well as JFK in New York, about the timing of similar trials.


Jill Brady, General Counsel, Virgin Atlantic, commented:

“We are delighted to be working so closely with BAA and NATS on this important, practical initiative to cut fuel burn and CO2 emissions. It is only through cross-industry co-operation that practical solutions can be found. Towing aircraft from a stand substantially reduces the amount of time they need to taxi with their engines running and reduces the time spent queuing before take-off. Starting grids will also reduce congestion around stands, meaning aircraft that have recently landed will not have to wait, with their engines running, to get onto the stand.”

“Once we have examined the results of the test trials, we will be able to look at creating centres of excellence at the busiest airports around the world, airports which share Virgin Atlantic’s goal of reducing fuel burn and CO2 emissions both on the ground and in the air.”

Paul Griffiths, Managing Director, BAA Gatwick commented:

“As a company, BAA is committed to working with aviation partners to reduce   CO2 emissions, including our support for the inclusion of the aviation industry within the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme. I am very proud for Gatwick Airport to be at the forefront of this innovative and exciting trial with Virgin Atlantic.  We welcome this opportunity to work with the airline to understand the benefits this could deliver for the aviation industry, the environment and for our local communities.”

Towing aircraft closer to the runway has substantial implications for local communities too. They would benefit from much lower noise levels because of aircraft taxi-ing without their engines running, and from dramatically cleaner air on the ground.

As part of its sustainable aviation strategy, Virgin Atlantic will also be unveiling a scheme in the first half of 2007 where passengers can offset their flights, and help to take greater responsibility for their carbon emissions. The offsetting facility will be part of a series of initiatives by the airline, including working with other stakeholders within the aviation industry, to tackle global warming.

The moves by Virgin Atlantic follow Sir Richard Branson’s commitment for Virgin Group to invest $3billion over the next ten years in renewable energy initiatives.