Flight Plan

Good for the bottomline and environment

| Updated on January 13, 2018 Published on March 07, 2017


Airlines are cutting fuel consumption by flying lighter, writes Ashwini Phadnis

Every drop saved is a penny earned. Add the impact on the environment and it becomes clear why airlines across runways are doing all they can to lighten the load they carry to increase fuel savings.

Even in India, airlines ranging from Air India and Jet Airways to Vistara and the newest entrant Zoom Air are following this mantra.

New lighter material for building aircraft, technology that enables more efficient flights, and even monitoring the food weight are some of the ways airlines are saving fuel costs.

Of course, the major reason for trying to save fuel is that aviation turbine fuel is one of the major operation costs of any airline. Estimates suggest that an airline spends 30-40 per cent of its operational costs on ATF.

High fuel costs

Reducing the fuel intake becomes significant when one considers the amount of ATF an aircraft consumes. The consumption starts from the time the engines are switched on and continues till such time as it reaches its destination.

“From the second an aircraft engine is started to the time that I take to taxi can take anywhere from between 5 seconds to three minutes,” says a senior pilot of Air India. “The consumption (of fuel for taxiing) can be anywhere between 80 kg for a single aisle to 150 kg for a wide body.” Given the fact that the number of flights is increasing, how much fuel a plane consumes even before it takes off is something that is not in the airlines’ hands.

The senior pilot says that what increases an aircraft’s fuel consumption is when it is asked to wait for a few minutes as another aircraft vacates a bay or if a pilot is asked to hold short of the runway point as another aircraft is coming in, among other things.

But if there are problems there are also solutions. Says Captain Roshan Joshi, Senior VP – Flight Operations, Vistara, “An important measure is to use a single-engine for the taxiing in procedure, which is increasingly becoming important, as major Indian airports are getting busier by the day requiring longer taxiing time to get to the runway before take-off or landing.” There are other ways too.

Vistara, for instance, ensures judicious use of fuel by rationalising meal and potable water upliftment, after having thoroughly studied consumption patterns of its customers on different flights. “This helps us burn less fuel as well as in conserving water,” says Captain Joshi.

On its part, Jet Airways conducts regular audits to explore and implement new ways of reducing the weight of cabin and cockpit items to control fuel burn. For instance, it recently provided all its B737 pilots with iPads pre-loaded with applications for performance calculations, viewing en-route and terminal charts, refer documents and checklists in digital format, reducing paper and weight in the cockpit.

Incidentally, reducing weight by one kg on a Boeing 737 reduces the annual CO2 emissions by 15,000 kg.

Small steps matter

Taking all these steps matter but eventually it is technology which is playing a bigger role.

For instance, while navigation was earlier done from one radio beacon to another, now with the advancement of GPS and celestial navigation Required Navigation Performance (RNP) is used. This means that a pilot can fly a plane without having a ground beacon thanks to the GPS. The integrity of the GPS is so high that it gives you a required navigational performance. Besides, following direct routes between cities also helps save fuel. Captain Hardeep Malhotra, Chief Pilot of Zoom Air, told Business Line soon after the airline’s inaugural flight landed in Durgapur from Lucknow, the flight went directly to Gaya and onwards to its final destination rather than flying to Dhanbad and then heading towards Durgapur. This helped it land in Durgapur 10 minutes ahead of the scheduled landing.

“In one hour a Canadian Regional Jet (the aircraft that Zoom is using) when it is cruising burns 1,200 kilos so it is not too difficult to calculate the money saved by cutting short the flight by 10 minutes,” Captain Malhotra points out. Officials of Airports Authority of India say that the integration of the five Flight Information Regions in India has meant that in most cases an aircraft at the time off take off knows at what altitude it will be flying. This information is conveyed to all the FIRs that the aircraft will pass through. This helps the aircraft maintain a constant altitude during flight rather than going up and down as was the case earlier as the different ATCs had limited vision of the area they controlled. A steady flight improves fuel efficiency during flight.

Besides with the reliability of engines improving due to the use of materials like titanium and aircraft being allowed to cross the Pacific with two engines instead of four have also helped cut fuel consumption by almost two-thirds

Published on March 07, 2017
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