Thu 20 Mar 2008 – In a letter yesterday to The Guardian newspaper, Sir Richard Branson criticized comments by British Airways’ Chief Executive, Willie Walsh, that the recent Virgin Airways biofuel flight was “a bit of a PR stunt”. Branson accused Walsh of lacking both vision and an environmental strategy.
Responding to the “PR stunt” jibe, Branson said “nothing could be further from the truth” and “despite the sceptics, we’ve proven biofuels can work”.
He went on: “It is neither easy nor cheap to develop cleaner fuels. At Virgin, we are attempting to address a global catastrophe and preparing for a world of scarcer oil, carbon pricing and population growth. As our recent demonstration flight using alternative fuel proved, we are not alone. Leading industry players such as Boeing, GE, Rolls-Royce, Continental Airlines and Air New Zealand share our vision for finding solutions. It is a pity that an increasingly isolated BA doesn’t.
“Flying short-haul between Gatwick and Newquay, when there is a perfectly good rail alternative, isn’t the right answer. Nor is offering an expensive carbon-offsetting scheme to your passengers. It seems to me that the head of BA doesn’t have an environmental strategy. For Walsh to say “I recognize ... that we don’t have an alternative to kerosene and carbon-based fuels at this point” is very short-sighted. There are alternatives emerging which need to be tested.”
Branson said Virgin and its partners would go on looking for a renewable fuel source, such as algae, “that could unlock our reliance on traditional kerosene” and that his group is making investments in solar, wind and water power, as well as alternative fuels, which would bring annual revenues of $870 billion by 2016. “The only businesses around in 20 years time will be green and sustainable businesses.”
He concluded by saying: “Sniping from the sidelines is not the answer to climate change. If Walsh, who’s clearly used to being handed solutions on a plate, had his way the industry would go backwards. We need everyone to take action now.”
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