Fuel Efficiency: What Else is Possible?
Fuel Efficiency: What Else is Possible?
Flight operations and fuel efficiency professionals are at the forefront of finding new and creative ways to reduce the impact of high jet-fuel prices on airline profitability. Data is their not-so-secret weapon. Now, more than ever, carriers are using data and the insights it provides to uncover fuel-saving opportunities, identify operating patterns and make sure flight and ground crews follow best practices.
The methods airlines use to gather, aggregate, analyze and display data are all over the map. Some use advanced data analytics platforms and expert services, like Honeywell’s GoDirect Flight Efficiency, while others do their own analysis using only spreadsheets. Either way, the goal is to reduce fuel consumption without negatively impacting schedule performance and passenger experience.
In February I met with fuel-efficiency initiative leaders from each of the 13 OneWorld airlines at the alliance’s Fuel Efficiency Conference in Tokyo. The conference was hosted by Japan Airlines, a OneWorld member airline and a leader in the use of data analytics to drive fuel efficiency. Three alliance members – JAL, Finnair and International Airline Group – are GoDirect Flight Efficiency customers.
The conference provided attendees with a chance to share experiences, benchmark best practices and learn from each other. The discussions were lively and the questions well-informed as participants explored ways to better manage fuel on the large and diverse fleets of aircraft – more than 3,500 in all – that the 13 member airlines operate.
Each of those aircraft consumes an enormous volume of fuel every flight, so a small improvement of even a percent or two can really add up. For example, GoDirect Flight Efficiency has demonstrated the ability to identify savings opportunities in the 1-3 percent range. For an airline that spends $2 billion on fuel that creates a potential benefit of $20 million-$60 million. Maybe more. For just one airline.
During the Honeywell session of the conference, we discussed four data-driven fuel-efficiency trends now being widely deployed in the airline industry:
- Over-Fueling. Enormous amounts of fuel is wasted when too much is loaded on the aircraft, beyond what’s required to safely complete the flight and meet reserve fuel requirements. It’s expensive to lug around this extra fuel, to the tune of 3-4 kilos of fuel burned hourly for every 100 kilos of excess weight. A study of invoices on three routes uncovered over-fueling of as much as 3 percent in some cases and system-wide over-fueling of 1.6 percent. Advanced data analytics can make sure that the right fuel quantity is ordered and loaded.
- Route Optimization. Flight planners and flight crews can work together to save flying time, reduce distance and cut fuel use substantially. Flight planners can search for the optimal departure and arrival routes that let aircraft seamlessly enter and leave the airway system. With the right information at their disposal, pilots can fly the most direct routes, take advantage of shortcuts, and request takeoff and landing trajectories that save fuel.
- Cost Index Sampling. Data analytics can help ensure that the optimum aircraft time and fuel settings are used throughout the cruise segment of flight. At regular intervals the fuel-efficiency solution samples a variety of factors – including weight, temperature, wind, flight level and speed – to ensure the crew is flying the most fuel-efficient flight profile.
- Statistical Contingency Fuel. Advancements in data analytics enable airlines to use statistical contingency fuel calculations, which ensure that the aircraft has the right amount of fuel onboard to complete the flight and contend with contingencies, such as rerouting to an alternate airport. Carrying too much fuel, on the other hand, is an expensive proposition. Study of one airline showed that carrying unused fuel accounted for nearly 4.5 percent of the fuel burned on an average flight.
With fuel costs approaching one-fourth of the typical airline’s operating costs, fuel efficiency is sure to remain a front-burner concern for the foreseeable future. Data analytics and the unique insights they provide can help ensure that airlines aren’t leaving money on the table.