Consumers ‘will turn against us’, Aviation Festival in London hears

Consumers “will turn against” airlines which don’t act on climate change and reduce emissions, Virgin Atlantic chief executive Shai Weiss warned yesterday.

Weiss told aviation industry leaders “This is a fundamental issue.”

Speaking at the Aviation Festival in London, Weiss was asked whether airline chiefs discussing the environment and emissions reduction was a marketing ploy.

He insisted: “It is not a marketing ploy. We make decisions on this. It’s a really fundamental issue.”

Weiss rejected a suggestion that airlines are to blame for ‘just’ 2% of global carbon emissions. In fact, the proportion is nearer 3%.

He said 2% of global emissions “is a big number and a lot of this [flying] is discretionary.

“If we are not ahead of this, consumers will turn against us very quickly. When we interview people for jobs, they ask us ‘What are you doing on this?’”

Weiss said the industry should act in three ways: “First, long-haul airlines can buy the youngest fleet.

“Second, sustainable aviation fuel is required. We call on the oil majors to invest in and produce and market alternative fuels. Third, offsets.”

The Virgin Atlantic boss also dismissed suggestions that digital technology would eliminate jobs. He said: “When I went to business school, I learned everything is about scale and barriers to entry and people are not important because you could always recruit.

“[But] an average Virgin Atlantic flight is nine to 10 hours and where Virgin excels is where there are human touch points – enriching the experience of customers.

“In a very competitive market, based on price, loyalty matters.

“We need to do more to feed the heritage of the brand. It is about bringing people in from outside and promoting people within and making people understand what it means to be part of a Virgin company.”

He said Virgin Atlantic would not be “unbundling” its offer: “We are not taking anything out. We’re full service. We’re adding stuff.”

Weiss also said Virgin Atlantic would consider “opportunities” be part of any consolidation among airlines. He said: “We look at everything around us.

“If opportunities present themselves and they are priced fairly we might take a look.”

The airline recently took over UK regional carrier Flybe, having acquired a 30% stake in March as part of the Connect Airways consortium with private equity group Cyrus Capital and Southend Airport-owner Stobart.