Three Ways Airlines Ease the Pain of Rising Fuel Costs

October 23, 2018 | Author: Iliya Maksimov

First the good news. The world’s airlines are on a pace to carry a record number of passengers and book record revenues in 2018. But higher operating expenses – especially higher fuel costs – are creating enormous headwinds and cutting into carriers’ profit expectations for the year, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA). Fuel prices are up about 29 percent compared to September 2017 figures.   

Reducing total fuel cost is a top priority for airline executives. They also feel the pressure to improve fuel efficiency as part of an International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) initiative to control aviation’s environmental impact and regulatory reporting requirements in the European Union and elsewhere. 

While reliable industry-wide data are hard to come by, airlines seem to be making some incremental progress when it comes to fuel efficiency. In September, the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) issued a whitepaper comparing the fuel efficiency of 20 major airlines flying transatlantic routes in 2017.

The ICCT paper found a modest improvement over previous year, with industry average fuel efficiency improving from 33 to 34 passenger-kilometers per liter of fuel on these routes. The ICCT credits the introduction of some newer, more fuel-efficient wide-body, twin-engine aircraft for most of this improvement.

Other factors that affect fuel efficiency include seating density, passenger load factor and freight as a share of total payload. But, the whitepaper emphasizes, fuel burn is the most important driver of fuel efficiency. Fuel burn accounts for almost 40 percent of the sizeable variation that exists between the most and least efficient carriers, with the least efficient airlines using 60 percent more fuel per passenger kilometer than the best-performing carriers.   

Short of swapping out their existing fleets for new aircraft, the best option for the airlines is to find ways to reduce fuel burn. Ultimately, the key to fuel efficiency is in the hands of flight crews and flight operations departments, who have the power to balance the need for efficiency with on-time performance and passenger satisfaction, without compromising safety.

More and more airlines are turning to Honeywell to achieve their ever-more-ambitious fuel efficiency goals. With GoDirect™ Flight Efficiency, we have the industry’s leading flight data analytics platform. GoDirect Flight Efficiency provides airlines with the tools to make sense of the billions of data points generated by flight recorders and provide actionable insights to operations teams and flight crews alike.

Honeywell has identified three strategies that can help airlines trim fuel consumption by as much as 5 percent, saving millions of kilos of fuel and tens-of-millions of dollars in operating costs every year.

Managing Fuel Load. Carrying even a little extra weight is a burden – ask anyone who backpacks! It’s also costly in the air transportation world, where airlines on long-haul flights pay a heavy price for lugging more fuel than they need to make the flight, manage contingencies and create an appropriate margin of safety. With advanced analytics from GoDirect Flight Efficiency, operators can calculate the ideal fuel load and reduce reserve fuel quantities several times: from today’s customary 5-10 percent to less than three percent of their planned trip fuel. Using the statistical contingency fuel approach, airlines can save hundreds or even thousands of kilos of weight and dramatically reduce their fuel burn. Download our whitepaper, “Managing Contingency Fuel Uplift with Advanced Analytics,” to learn more about statistical contingency fuel.

Performing Continuous Descent Operations. Many airports on both sides of the Atlantic have published CDO procedures, yet many airlines fail to take advantage of CDO. Statistical analysis provides airlines with insight into which airports and time slots give them better chances of CDO (also known as optimized profile descent). Transatlantic flights happen between some of the world’s busiest airports, so figuring out when CDO can be performed is not trivial but it can lead to a significant reduction of costs. The difference between performing a conventional step-down descent and CDO can measure in tons of fuel saved. By processing flight data from thousands of flights, GoDirect Flight Efficiency provides pilots with a briefing which informs them about CDO opportunities for their specific flight.

Selecting the Best Alternate Airports. “Alternate fuel” is the amount of fuel needed to reach an alternative airport if the destination airport isn’t available. Airlines often plan for an alternate airport using a flight planning tool without considering the actual fuel consumption data. We estimate that choosing the best alternative airports can reduce fuel on board by 500 kilograms for short-haul flights on narrow-body aircraft and 1,000-2,500 kilograms for long-haul flights with a four-engine aircraft, dramatically reducing fuel burn on those routes. Honeywell makes alternate airport selection more informed and transparent.

More than 30 leading airlines including Lufthansa, British Airways, Turkish Airlines, Etihad Airways, Japan Airlines and others around the world have saved millions of kilograms of fuel and millions of dollars using the GoDirect Flight Efficiency solution from Honeywell. Visit us online to learn how you can reduce fuel burn and operating costs GoDirect Flight Efficiency. 

For more information on GoDirect Flight Efficiency and the top initiatives airlines use to safe fuel, please sign up to participate in our free online webinar.


Iliya Maksimov

Iliya Maksimov - Principal Instructor, Fuel Efficiency Course

After burning thousands and thousands of kilograms of fuel flying a Boeing 737 all over Europe for logistics firm DHL, Iliya switched sides and is now supporting multiple initiatives to reduce fuel consumption. He has helped Turkish Airlines and Jet Airways to implement GoDirect Flight Efficiency, software solutions that helps airlines improve fuel efficiency and reduce carbon emissions. Most recently, Iliya has provided hands-on fuel efficiency training to dozens of aviation professionals as the principal instructor of the Fuel Efficiency course.