‘LOOK, I’m losing weight’

Airlines are looking to cut flab by reducing the weight of add-ons on a flight. Ashwini Phadnis reports

It is not only human beings who are becoming weight-conscious. Global airlines too are concerned about shedding extra weight, albeit for different reasons — they want to fly longer; the less the weight on the aircraft, the longer the distances that they can cover in a single flight.

And there is enough flab on an aircraft — the weight of the body of the aircraft, the weight of the fuel that every flight carries, the weight of the passengers and the bags that they carry, both in the cabin and in the hold. And there’s also the weight of the food and beverages that are served.

According to Captain Basil Kwauk, Senior Vice-President and Head – Flight Operations, Vistara, the weight of the aircraft can be categorised into the weight of mandatory components like the airframe and the engine that are not usually subject to change after entry into service.

“Then, there are cabin items that can be taken into consideration, such as passenger seats, which are still required items but lighter options can be acquired. Apart from this, variable items such as carriage of water, eatables, fuel and magazines have the potential for managing aircraft weight,” he says.

Given that reducing the weight of the body of an aircraft will require major changes by the manufacturers, the airlines are concentrating on what they can do — reducing the weight of the add-ons. There is plenty that they are doing here. Airlines are opting for slimline economy class seats, which weigh less, and using newer Inflight Entertainment (IFE) systems, which are lightweight. Earlier, IEF systems could weigh as much as 2 tonnes while nowadays there are options that weigh as less as 180 kg.

“Opting for Recaro Aircraft Economy Seating when we launched in 2008 has proved to be the right choice. The seats, with their revolutionary design, have substantially reduced the weight of our aircraft, resulting in lower fuel costs. We pass these savings on to our passengers through lower fares without compromising comfort on board,” Ghaith AL Ghaith, Chief Executive Officer, flydubai, told BusinessLine. flydubai is a Dubai-based hybrid airline which, though low-cost, also offers business class seating. Captain Basil too lists various measures that Vistara is taking to reduce the weight of the aircraft, including using electronic documents for the flight crew (as permitted by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation) to reduce the need for paper documents and their weight.

“We also rationalise meal and potable water upliftment after having thoroughly studied consumption patterns of our customers on different flights, which also helps us in water conservation and reducing food waste,” he adds, maintaining that as a component, the use of electronic documents has resulted in a weight reduction of about 30 kg per aircraft.

In the next few months Air India Airbus aircraft will also have Electronic Flight Bags or putting all the required legislation in electronic form, which will lead to a saving of 50 to 60 kg per sector per plane.

Others are offering lighter in-flight magazines or are doing away with these altogether. Using lighter crockery and cutlery, lighter in-flight trolleys and galley equipment also helps cut down the weight on a flight.

Though most airlines deny this, reducing meal portions is another option and uplifting fewer meal options is also being tried. Even reducing the number of items for passenger comfort, like blankets and pillows, is being done.

According to industry watchers, focussing on fliers and their habits gives the most significant pointers towards where weight can be cut. Using big data to record all aspects of passenger behaviour to see what things are used more and what are used less can help adjust supplies. This is what global airlines are doing. So, if a flier wants something that is flagged as not popular by the data analysis, chances are that he will not get it.

On fuel front too

Not all changes are being made in the cabin, though. A number of airline executives maintain that direct or optimised routing to reduce flight time and holding time, thereby reducing the amount of fuel to be carried, helps airlines lose aircraft weight.

Giving an example of how every extra kilo hurts airlines’ finances, a senior Air India pilot says, “If we go from Delhi to London on an average day, it is 190 kg for every extra tonne carried. On a shorter route, it will be much less. It also depends on the level at which you fly. If you do not fly at the optimum level, which is generally 38,000 feet, then the fuel penalty will be anything between 2 and 4 per cent (that means the aircraft will have to carry more fuel which is again a weight),” he points out.

Air India, along with several other airlines, recently operated flights without a designated alternate. “That is a big step because carrying fuel for an alternate is a significant weight and consequent cost,” says an airline executive who declined to be named.

Using fuel management systems help airlines ensure that the additional fuel uplift is monitored and managed after looking at traffic congestion and at historical delays on a route.

Says Captain Basil of Vistara, “One of the contributory factors for the fuel burn on any sector is the aircraft weight and fuel cost is a significant percentage of the operating cost. Hence, a lower fuel burn with a reduced aircraft weight has potential for lower fuel bills. In addition, it is an environment-friendly measure that also ensures lower carbon emissions.”

Published on July 09, 2019

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