The airline will take delivery on the aircraft in 2016. In the meantime, it will use the CFM56-5B engine to power 30 of the A320s already in its fleet. The engine orders have a combined value of $1.4 billion.
If nothing more, the order shows that the young airline is trying to upend the airline industry with aggressive moves. In January, Virgin announced it would almost triple its fleet size with an order for 60 new Airbus A320 aircraft, among them the A320neo, marketed as a fuel-sipping version of the popular model.
Together, the A320neo and LEAP engine offer more than 15 percent improved fuel efficiency, not to mention corresponding reductions in nitrous oxide emissions. Virgin says that translates to an annual fuel cost savings of $1.9 million for each aircraft — hardly chump change at a time when fuel prices continue to send ticket prices sky-high.
CFM International, a joint venture between GE and Snecma, says the CFM56 engine is 25 percent more fuel efficient than conventional models. To underscore the point, the companies are purchasing 5,000 flights’ worth of carbon offsets from Carbonfund.org.
“Our airline is known for taking a different approach to amenities, design and service in order to make travel better,” Virgin America chief executive David Cush said in a statement. “But we’re just as committed to finding new ways to make travel more sustainable, even as we grow.”