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Can Richard Branson Save Aviation?

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Admittedly, I already liked Richard Branson. He's got the accent, long (but not too long) wavy locks, and that I-know-I'm-good swagger. His brand is him.

And Virgin has to be the sexiest airline. Wouldn't we all want to fly Upper Class, their version of first class? Ah, the finer things in life, such as being picked up by private car and swept off to a private screening entry at the airport, mingling at a hip bar over the Atlantic, getting a massage from the on-board beauty therapist, a lie-flat bed... Ok, the price tag is more than my average paycheck, so I'm not likely to get to fly Upper Class any time soon. But I'll take even Virgin's Premium Economy with its sleek interiors, purple leather seats, individual entertainment, meals and more, as well as flight attendants who smile and wear uniforms with a fashionable bent. (Need I go on?) Yet last week when I heard about Branson's latest feat - flying a 747 airplane from London to Amsterdam on 20 percent bio-diesel fuel - I had to say "Hallelujah!"

Then I had this thought: Can Richard Branson save aviation with his courageous ideas and bravado? Can we really fly around the world with less carbon guilt? It's more than this bio-diesel experiment. Branson is also an advocate for towing planes to the runways, saving substantial fuel by waiting to power up the engines until just before takeoff. Plus, according to Virgin, they have ordered a number of Boeing's Dreamliner jets because they're 20 percent more fuel efficient. Perhaps then it's not so surprising that aviation giant Boeing has announced that it will speed up plans to find a more efficient alternative fuel for its planes. Boeing participated as a partner in Branson's biodiesel demonstration.

But Branson doesn't own this maverick stance. In fact, there are others who think out of the box. Branson may have the biggest audience yet, but I discovered that his was not the first flight that has ever flown on bio-diesel. Last year, there was a Czech made airplane that flew on bio-diesel as part of an idea that the Green Flight International founder hatched as a way to get alternative (environmentally friendly) fuel sources adopted in aviation and other areas. An article at ScientificAmerican.com reported that one of Green Flight International's test trips flew entirely on cooking oil.

Now we're not to the promised land yet. Branson admitted that this version of bio-fuel is not commercially viable, and that more affordable sources are needed, perhaps from cellulosic or algae-based oils. But it's a start.

Learning all this, I felt like there's a ray of sun at the end of the carbon tunnel. Greenies (my word for eco-capitalists and eco-consumers) can save the planet yet. Good for Branson. At a $100 bucks a barrel, I bet lots of other airlines watched that flight to Amsterdam and maybe some will actually be inspired to innovate as well. And while this may not truly impact your next flight may this be the start of commercial viability for alternative fuel because we have to start somewhere.

For more of Amy's blogs visit The Window Seat blog .

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