WHAT THE PAPERS SAY: Virgin accused of 'publicity stunt'

There was a predictable shout of 'publicity stunt' when Virgin became the first airline to use biofuel mixed with aviation fuel in a commercial flight.

Pressure groups and environmental journalists rushed to attack Virgin, with Friends of the Earth dismissing biofuels as 'a major distraction in the fight against climate change' (bbc.co.uk, 24 February).

The airline was also accused of using the flight as a smokescreen to cover its support for a third runway at Heathrow (The Guardian, 25 February), described by Greenpeace as a 'massive piece of spin and greenwash'.

Richard Branson countered that it was a 'breakthrough for the entire airline industry' (The Guardian, 25 February) and talked of possibly using algae produced in sewage farms rather than the mixture of Malaysian coconut oil and wild babassu palms from Brazil.

Airline analyst James Halstead praised Branson for being 'willing to put some of his billions' into the experiment but warned of 'unanswered questions about the usefulness of biofuels' (Daily Record, 25 February).

Analysis conducted by Echo Research from data supplied to PRWeek from NewsNow.


The blogosphere emitted nastier emissions towards Virgin than the papers about their first biofuel flight. "What a load of coconuts" seemed to be the cry.

A minority did praise a large corporate for attempting something positive, citing biofuels keeping down fuel costs in South America by reducing reliance on oil production.

Some felt biofuels better in the long run if the price doesn't make it prohibitive to buy. Many ex-military bloggers said biofuels used in certain military vehicles cost more than standard fuel. Some mentioned USAF planes had been using new synthetic fuels and some felt they would be better in the long run.

Bloggers discussed more deeply the ramifications of biofuels than the papers, asking is it a genuine innovation to help augment the fuel crisis or will it put pressure on farmers from third world countries to destroy more forests in order to satisfy demand.

Some felt it impossible to support biofuels in the amounts needed, asking what fields do we stop producing food in and start producing fuel. Increased food prices, cutting food supplies or stop expanding cities amongst the extreme scenarios cited.

However, many felt that instead of looking for a ‘magic green bullet' Virgin should focus on the real solution to this problem - halting relentless airport expansion, the "fastest growing source of greenhouse gases in the UK".

Analysis conducted by Nielsen Online from a source of over 70 million blogs www.nielsen-online.com




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