The future of airline technology

– By Richard Branson


Occasionally our clean energy team at Virgin Group deserve a massive pat on the back. For years we’ve been trying to persuade Boeing and Airbus that they could build their main planes out of carbon fibre, saving enormous amounts of money in fuel and therefore carbon output.

In the end we just decided to show them that it could be done and we built the Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer, a magnificent looking plane that Steve Fossett flew for us non-stop around the world. I was reserve pilot but would have had to get my fixed wing licence to fly it! The plane flew beautifully, setting a record for the longest flight in history: 26,389.3 miles in 67 hours. It can now be seen in the Smithsonian Institute.


Today Airbus unveiled the A350, which is mainly made of carbon composite materials and will be the workhorse of airlines in future years, saving incredible quantities of carbon being pumped into the air.

The Boeing 787 is also largely made of carbon fibre and it too will become a workhorse of the industry saving both the environment and costs. The final stage is clean aviation fuel and companies that Virgin invest in from the profit we make from our airlines are coming close to an answer.

I believe the future will be clean fuels produced from materials like isobutanol, algae that will power our planes without omitting carbon and without eating into our food supply.

The innovations by Airbus and Boeing are great news for the airline industry and the world at large. It goes to show the healthy spirit of competition, as Virgin’s efforts to move towards cleaner aviation have forced them to up their game.

By Richard Branson. Founder of Virgin Group

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