Virgin Group boss Richard Branson said on Friday he would aim to avoid buying fuel-thirsty four-engined airplanes in future to curb fuel costs and the environmental impact of his fast-growing airlines.
Fears that CO2 emissions from airlines are fuelling climate change will not reduce demand for air travel, he added, but innovation in biofuels could provide a solution in the next decade.
Virgin Atlantic's fleet of 38 planes all have four engines, and it has six four-engined Airbus A380 superjumbos on order.
But in April the airline said it was buying 15 of Boeing's new fuel-efficient carbon-composite 787 Dreamliner jets with two engines, which burn 27 percent less fuel than the Airbus A340s they will replace.
Global warming has become a priority, but it also makes good economic sense to be eco-friendly, Branson told reporters, adding he favored two-engined jets for the future. We've just announced the 787, which has two engines.
In the past Branson favoured four-engined planes because he said passengers, staff and pilots preferred them.
But aviation's impact on the environment has become a hot topic in Britain this summer, with climate change protesters camping at London's Heathrow airport to protest against the industry's rapid expansion.
From 3 percent of mankind's total contribution to global warming in 2005, aviation's emissions are set to rise by a factor of two to five by 2050, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said in a major report this year.
Branson, who was in London to promote the PICNIC environmental innovation competition, doubted travelers would be deterred by the figures and called on politicians to act.
Realistically, flying is something people need to do and will do, he said. I don't think people will change their habits if it affects their lifestyle.
It's up to business leaders and politicians to come up with ways of reducing emissions, he added. I suspect governments should make sure fuel prices don't drop.
Virgin is developing biofuels for aircraft alongside Boeing and engine-maker GE Aviation and plans to test them next year.
We've said we will fly a jet engine on a 747 using biofuels sometime next year, people say the end of next year, said Branson. But I believe we'll be able to bring that forward. We have to make sure it's economically viable to roll out across the Virgin fleet.
Hopefully, ten years from now our planes can be carbon neutral, he added. It's not just charitable. We've got to come up with a fuel that knocks oil for six.
Branson has pledged that for the next 10 years all profits from his 51 percent stakes in Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Trains will be invested in renewable energy.
I've got a dirty business with my planes... Let's put some money into doing something about it, he said.
Branson also holds smaller stakes in Australian airline Virgin Blue, Malaysia's AirAsia X, U.S. low-cost airline Virgin America and Virgin Nigeria.