Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Virgin criticised by environmental groups for introducing Heathrow to Manchester flights

As Virgin apply for a judicial review against their loss of the West Coast rail franchise, environmental groups unanimously criticised the company's green credentials last week for launching a new Manchester to London air route.

From Business Green,  21 Aug 2012

Virgin Atlantic’s plans to start commercial flights from London to Manchester have today been sharply criticised by green groups who claim the service will push up emissions.

The airline announced its first foray into domestic services this morning, just days after Virgin Trains lost out on its valuable West Coast rail franchise to First Group.

The company said it plans to offer three daily return flights between Heathrow and Manchester from March 2013, while flights from the capital to Edinburgh and Aberdeen could also be up and running by the summer.

However, green campaigners said such short flights are hugely fuel inefficient, given most fuel is burnt during the frequent take-offs and landings on short shuttle flights.

They also questioned how the service squares with Richard Branson’s stated aim to make Virgin the world’s most sustainable airline by 2020, and argued that the new service called into question the case for expansion at Heathrow.

A spokeswoman for the Green Party told BusinessGreen that replacing the almost 100,000 annual flights to destinations such as Edinburgh, Manchester, and Paris with rail journeys would not only reduce emissions but also free up capacity at Heathrow for new connections to emerging markets, removing the need for a new hub airport or expanded capacity.  “We are very disappointed Richard Branson doesn’t understand flying inter-city within the same country doesn’t do anything to help [reduce] CO2 emissions,” she said. “We should be reducing short-haul flights not encouraging people to take more.”

Jean Leston, senior transport policy officer at WWF UK, added: “Virgin’s new route to Manchester shows yet again how the airlines are creating a rod for their own backs by adding new domestic routes that clog up capacity that’s better used for new long haul routes… [and] not adding carbon needlessly to our skies.”

Meanwhile, Jane Thomas, a senior campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said the proposed £32bn high-speed rail link to Birmingham, Manchester and the North, known as HS2, would make internal flights redundant.  “Encouraging people to use trains is environmentally sensible and it also makes good sense when you have good existing networks,” she toldBusinessGreen. “HS2 would increase connectivity further and negate any case for short haul flights.”

Her thoughts were echoed by Richard Hebditch, campaign director at the Campaign for Better Transport.  “We should be making sure that rail is the mode of choice for all journeys between Manchester and London, not contemplating more flights for such a short distance,” he said. “Whoever runs the west coast mainline, travelling by rail has to make more sense.”

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