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How to save aviation fuel? Fly slower!

In the face of skyrocketing fuel prices, airlines are doing what motorists have known for long – that slowing down on the road means saving on fuel.

16 May, 2008: More and more airlines worldwide are adding a few minutes to flights to save millions in jet-fuel costs.

Here's what Air Canada does.

  • Reducing cruising speed when flights are ahead of schedule.
  • Reducing speed when an aircraft has prevailing winds.
  • Taxiing on the ground with only one engine.
  • Taking more weight off planes with the use of lighter trolleys and cargo containers.
  • Optimising the uses of water on board. Instead of flying with a full tank, the airline refills at a connecting destination.
  • Making sure external surfaces are cleaned to cut down on drag.

Air Canada, Canada’s largest airline and flag carrier, claims to be among the leaders in this area of saving on jet fuel.

Fuel-saving measures of WestJet Airlines

  • WestJet equips its planes with blended winglets, which are bent-up tips at the end of the wings to provide more lift to the aircraft on takeoff.
  • The carrier uses an onboard GPS system to allow planes to come in for more direct landings via satellite, cutting travel time and fuel expenses.

Canada’s WestJet Airlines has been trying to cut fuel costs by using computer technology to calculate optimum speeds so that slowing down does not extend the work shift and add to staffing costs.

Isabelle Arthur, a spokeswoman of Air Canada, said that the carrier had taken a series of steps to save on fuel costs more than a year ago which are a joint effort of all Air Canada’s operational branches, including input from flight operations, in-flight operations and the maintenance group.

However, customers cannot expect these savings to be passed on in the form of lower fares, Air Canada’s spokeswoman added.

Southwest Airlines, USA

Southwest Airlines, the low-cost airline based in Dallas, Texas, the United States, started flying slower two months ago. It expects to save US $42 million in fuel in 2008 by extending each flight by 1 to 3 minutes.

Northwest Airlines, USA

The Northwest Airlines, of the United States, saved 162 US gallons (613 litres) of aviation fuel worth $535 on its flight from Paris to Minneapolis recently. By flying slower, Northwest Airlines added 8 minutes to the flight, extending it to 8 hours, 58 minutes – that is, flying at an average speed of 532 miles per hour, down from the usual 542 miles per hour.


  • Added 4 minutes to its flights

JetBlue, a low-cost airline owned by JetBlue Airways Corporation of the United States, adds an average of 2 minutes to each flight, and saves about $13.6 million a year in jet fuel. Adding just 4 minutes to its flights to and from Hawaii saves Northwest Airlines $600,000 a year on those flights alone, according to a spokesman of JetBlue.

United Airlines

  • Flight planning software for optimum routes and speeds

United Airlines, a major airline of the United States and a subsidiary of UAL Corporation, has invested in flight-planning software that helps pilots choose the best routes and speeds. The airline estimates that the software will save it $20 million a year.

While slowing down flights can help airlines conserve fuel, it can also lead to greater labour and maintenance costs if airline employees work longer hours and planes spend more time in service, an independent airline consultant based in Port Washington, New York, was quoted by Star newspaper.

He added: “The slowing down to conserve fuel can only be pushed so far: below a certain speed, depending on the model, an aircraft's fuel usage can actually rise.

Not every airline is taking the slowdown approach.”

The “slowing down” of aircraft has received support form many consumer outfits in the United States. According to Travis Plunkett, legislative director at the Consumer Federation of America, “the extra minutes shouldn’t matter. If it means that airlines can keep their costs down, keep their ticket prices down, and save a little fuel, that’s fine.”








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