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Virgin Atlantic orders 787s

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Virgin Atlantic has joined the growing band of airlines snapping up the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. At a press announcement on Tuesday the airline's chairman Sir Richard Branson also indicated that Virgin aims to be the first airline to power its aircraft with alternative fuels.

Virgin Atlantic is ordering 15 of the 787-9 Dreamliners, the largest so far of any European airline -- with options to order another eight 787-9s and purchase rights on a further 20 aircraft.

"Virgin Atlantic is totally focused on delivering a cleaner airline in the air and on the ground, and our order today will significantly cut carbon emissions per 787 Dreamliner flight," said Branson.

The 787-9 Dreamliner burns around 27 per cent less fuel per passenger than the Airbus A340-300, the aircraft it will replace in the Virgin Atlantic fleet. The order will see Virgin Atlantic take delivery of its new planes from 2011 and could be worth up to $8 billion.

Boeing has been touting its new aircrafts "green" credentials. With over half of the aircraft made from composite materials, fuel burn is reduced and the noise footprint of the 787-9 is also reported to be 60 per cent lower than rival Airbus' A340-300.

Virgin Atlantic will choose between engine manufacturers, Rolls Royce or General Electric.

The new Virgin Atlantic 787 Dreamliners will enable the airline to continue its global expansion, possibly flying to cities including Rio de Janeiro, Seattle, Vancouver, Bangkok and Melbourne.

"With this dynamic new plane, our customers will get the world's best customer service onboard combined with world-class engineering throughout. The 787 Dreamliner symbolizes the environmentally-kinder aircraft of the future - cleaner, quieter, lighter and truly the best experience in the air," said Branson.

As part of its drive for greater fuel efficiency, Virgin Atlantic also revealed today that it would hold a joint biofuel demonstration, with Boeing, Virgin Fuels and engine maker GE Aviation, using a Boeing 747-400.

But there are some doubts that biofuels represent a wholly environmentally friendly replacement to normal aviation fuel. Their production can also be energy intensive and some critics point to the potential for mass deforestation in order to grow the crops, which would counter the predicted reduction in carbon emissions.

Biofuels cannot be used alone to power jets flying at high altitude. They must be blended with kerosene to create a mix that does not freeze at temperature that can reach --40 degrees Celsius.


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Sir Richard Branson: "Virgin Atlantic is totally focused on delivering a cleaner airline."

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