Chris Browne, the head of the UK’s third-largest airline, is not one to mince her words, especially when it comes to subjects she is passionate about.

Building a sustainable future for the aviation industry is one of those things. Thomson Airways hit the headlines last month when it operated the first commercial flight in the UK part-powered by biofuels.

Biofuel mission

Environmental campaigners slammed the pilot project as a gimmick that would end up harming the environment.

“We did it to raise awareness,” said Browne. “At the moment there’s no viable alternative to jet fuel. If we can get the industry to invest in alternative sources we could make it work.

“Our CO2 emissions are the lowest in the UK because we have high load factors.”

From February, daily flights from Birmingham will run on the fuel – a mix of standard fuel and biofuel made from waste cooking oil – for six weeks.

Dreamliner hopes

Another key pillar in the airline’s drive for sustainability is the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, the much-delayed new generation of aircraft that promises to be lighter and cheaper to run than any other.

Its arrival has been hit by a further delay. It was due in June 2012 but now it’s not expected until spring 2013. However, having recently travelled to Seattle to check on Thomson Airways’ deliveries, Browne is confident this latest delay will be its last.

She described the Dreamliner as “absolutely massive” with “fabulous windows” and is sure it will live up to the hype. “All the tests prove the atmosphere and lighting helps combat jet lag.

“We are all geared up for delivery in spring 2013. We’ll start off with short-haul routes, such as from Gatwick to Palma or Tenerife, to make sure we’re comfortable.

“I’m keen to get it going on long-haul as soon as we can. Initially, I’ll insist it does existing routes, but then we’ll look elsewhere. I’d like to take it east.”

Coming back to the present, Browne acknowledges the industry continues to come under pressure from tax and the difficult UK economy. She applauded the move by fellow airline bosses from British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Ryanair and easyJet to launch anti-APD campaign Axe the Tax.

“I welcome the move. It’s not often the industry speaks with one voice. The government is ignoring the damage APD is doing.”

Brand strength

In terms of the market, Browne said Tui was reaping the benefits of having a brand that is a household name. “The UK economy is struggling and there is no doubt that is having an impact. “But when times are tough people are turning to brands they trust. You might risk flight-only with a less well-known carrier, but not your main holiday.”

Despite the current troubles, Egypt was seeing a recovery after the uprising earlier this year, she said. “People realise Sharm el-Sheikh is fantastic value for money. We did move capacity away to the Canaries this year, but next year we’re back in.”

Cape Verde is popular for 2012, she said: “People like the idea of going somewhere different.”

Tui’s new £5 million TV advert, which launched more than two months before the traditional turn-of-year period, has been well received. Browne said: “Unfortunately, before this, we had always led with the price message rather than the message that a holiday is an important time, with memories that will last longer than two or three weeks.”