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Branson unveils aviation overhaul to curb global warming
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Branson unveils aviation overhaul to curb global warming


NEW YORK, Sept 28, 2006 (UNI)

British tycoon Richard Branson Wednesday urged the aviation industry to join his Virgin Atlantic airline in an ambitious plan to combat the potential ‘‘catastrophe’’ of global warming.

The billionaire founder of the Virgin Group of companies said that airlines around the world had to play their part in reducing commercial planes’ carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by up to one-quarter.

‘‘We need to accelerate the pace at which we reduce aviation’s impact on the environment,’’ Branson said in a letter to industry leaders including the bosses of British Airways, American Airlines and low-cost flyer Easyjet.

‘‘We cannot ignore that aviation does create environmental problems -- around 2.0 percent of global CO2 emissions -- although equally it produces significant economic and social benefits,’’ he wrote.

The plan unveiled in New York by Virgin Atlantic envisages the creation of ‘‘starting grids’’ for all aircraft departures -- a holding area consisting of several parking bays close to the runway.

Planes could be towed closer to the runway before take-off, substantially reducing the time that their engines need to be running, Virgin Atlantic said.

Arriving planes could also turn off their engines after five minutes and be towed to their stand, saving ‘‘considerable extra CO2’’.

The grids would reduce fuel consumption and on-the-ground CO2 emissions by over 50 percent before take-off at London’s Heathrow airport for Virgin Atlantic planes, and by nearly 90 percent for Virgin flights at JFK Airport in New York, the airline said.

It would also mean that an aircraft flying from JFK to Heathrow could carry around two tonnes less weight in the air, it said.

Branson’s letter was addressed also to engine and aircraft manufacturers such as Rolls Royce and Boeing, and airport operators including BAA in Britain.

It came after the flamboyant entrepreneur last week vowed to spend three billion dollars in the next decade on projects to combat global warming and reduce the dependence of Virgin planes and trains on fossil fuels.

To cut fuel consumption, Virgin Atlantic even plans to reduce the weight of its aircraft through using lighter paint on the exterior and lighter fittings inside the cabin.

That includes changing oxygen bottles from metal to carbon-fibre, and removing empty champagne and beer bottles which have been drunk before the plane leaves the stand for recycling.

Branson said that combined with an earlier and smoother descent by pilots coming into land, the changes would save over 150 million tonnes of CO2 emissions a year, or 25 percent of the world’s aviation emissions.

‘‘With global warming, the world is heading for a catastrophe. The aviation industry must play its part in averting that,’’ he said.

The aviation plan was announced the same day that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a historic bill to make California the first US state to impose limits on the gases suspected to be behind global warming.

The Republican administration of President George W. Bush has refused to ratify the Kyoto Accord against global warming, arguing the agreement would cripple the US economy.

But Schwarzenegger and Branson recently joined forces with British Prime Minister Tony Blair to argue that the costs of doing nothing would be even greater.

Another offshoot of Branson’s empire, Virgin Fuels, plans to invest in a California-based ethanol company called Cilion to develop alternatives to gasoline engines.

The entrepreneur denies his new zeal against global warming is one of the public-relations stunts for which he is famed. ‘‘If it’s good for marketing, that’s fine, but it’s not my principal reason for doing it,’’ he said.

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