Virgin America is a San Francisco-based airline that is on a mission to "make flying good again." The airline launched in 2007 and operates in the United States and Canada and will soon launch service to Mexico.
Although it is the brainchild of Sir Richard Branson and licenses the name from the Virgin Group, by U.S. law it is only 25 percent owned by its European-based parent company. In 2009, at the close of its second full year, the company reported revenues of $548 million.
Virgin America's goal is to build an airline from the ground up that makes environmentally sustainable practices part and parcel of their business model -- right down to the use of organic hand-soap in the lavatories. The GreenBiz Group's Heather King talks with CEO David Cush about the imperatives for greening the airline industry, Sir Richard Branson's impact, and how algae-based fuels could reduce the industry's petroleum demand by 25 percent within 10-15 years.
Heather King: Virgin Airlines is "leading the airline industry towards a more sustainable future by collaborating with industry leaders, policy makers and other stakeholders to embrace progressive approaches and technological advances." What is driving Sir Richard Branson and Virgin America, as the U.S. partner, to take such a leadership role?
David Cush: There are multiple reasons we are leading this charge. We are based in San Francisco, a region that has a high sensitivity to green and sustainability issues. We have a young employee base; they are more fervent about climate change and more demanding that their employers play a positive role.
We operate a carbon-intensive business in a carbon-intensive industry in a world that must become carbon constrained. For that reason, our industry has to drive a solution or we'll become a pariah. Lastly, many of our corporate customers like Motorola and IBM are pushing the airlines in this direction as part of their effort to reduce their own carbon footprints. We are impacted by their supply chain mandates.
Sir Richard's commitment to carbon reductions has a significant impact on us. He sets an expectation that becomes our standard. He's basically thrown down the gauntlet and it's critical we deliver for our reputation and his.