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Traveling Light

Knowing where to make fuel efficiency gains is only the beginning. Implementation is the key to success

Airlines have every reason to be as fuel efficient as possible. From an environmental perspective, airlines are preparing for global market-based measures to meet challenging environmental targets and so must remain vigilant about the amount of CO2 they emit.

Financially, volatility in oil prices and an estimated industry fuel bill of $208 billion—over a third of operational costs—provide a strong incentive as well.

Airlines have clearly paid attention. In the past decade, investment in new aircraft and engines alongside operational reviews has improved fuel efficiency 17%. Finnair is one of many airlines committed to extending these efforts. The airline’s goal is to reduce its emissions 24% per seat by 2017 compared with 2009 levels.

IATA’s Green Teams provide an external review of the good work being done by the airlines. Green Teams began operation in 2005 and had conducted 111 Gap Analyses by October 2012.  In total, their work has allowed airlines that have undergone the analysis to achieve a saving of 0.84 million tonnes of CO2.

Green Teams visit an airline at the airline’s request and conduct a thorough assessment of the carrier’s fuel usage. “This initial assessment establishes a baseline,” says Tom Fodor, IATA Assistant Director, Engineering & Maintenance. “Every airline is different. There could be seasonal, operational or fleet issues to address, in addition to some regulatory restrictions.”
The airline’s fuel budget is used as a reference point for any improvements. So, potential savings are added up and calculated as a percentage of the fuel budget. This figure becomes the airline’s target. Green team visits have so far identified potential savings per airline in the 2% to 14% range.

Additional support

Identifying fuel efficiency measures is only one part of the equation, however. A successful answer depends on implementing the improvements. In addition to the 0.84 million tonnes of CO2 saved by the Green Teams, for example, a further 0.76 million tonnes of potential CO2 savings have been identified but not realized.

The problem is not in implementation planning, which is straightforward enough. Priorities are set that identify the low hanging fruit. Addressing those items that provide the most benefits for very little investment give encouragement to the airlines to continue the work. IATA helps to establish the business case for each change and also the methodology necessary to track data and achieve accurate measurements.

But meticulous planning must be followed up with action. The challenge for many is ensuring that they have the knowledge and expertise to act. “Even the easier improvements can require detailed changes to be made across a number of departments,” explains Fodor. “It can be very hard to achieve the improvements but it is important work. It isn’t enough to achieve a one-off result. Airlines must have in place the technology and processes that sustain fuel efficiency improvements.”

Forums for discussion

Workshops are one way to provide airlines with more support in addressing fuel efficiency issues. They started in 2008, acting as a forum for the participants to discuss best practice in five areas:

  • Flight Dispatch and Planning
  • Flight Operations
  • Maintenance and Engineering
  • Ground Operations
  • Cabin-related items

“The workshops proved enormously successful,” says Fodor. “They provided an opportunity for IATA to share best practices and methodology for establishing efficiency improvement targets. At the same time airlines could discuss the latest ideas with industry colleagues.”
These workshops were based on the Guidance Material and Best Practices for Fuel and Environmental Management. This is a living document, constantly evolving as new challenges and solutions enter the fray through the refocused workshops. “We are getting some valuable information,” says Fodor. “We validate it and then feed it back into the system.”

From 2010 onwards these free workshops took on a different character to push the implementation drive even harder. Brainstorming sessions took place that highlighted the critical obstacles to implementation and possible solutions. This fed into a third key area of the fuel efficiency drive; the Fuel Efficiency Program Implementation Guidance Material.

In 2012, the workshops took another step forward by inviting external stakeholders to join the conversation. Much of what an airline can achieve, both on the ground and in the air, is dependent on its partners. From ground power to taxiing to green departures and route optimization, airports and air navigation service providers (ANSPs) are critical elements of the fuel efficiency efforts. At the six 2012 workshops—locations have included Johannesburg, Delhi, Miami, Singapore, and Beijing—the regional airports and ANSPs attended. Specific case studies underlined areas of greater cooperation. An idea city-pair flight would be contrasted with the reality, for example.

The aim for 2013 is to build on these relationships, especially at the association level. Providing the likes of Airports Council International (ACI) and the Civil Air Navigation Services Organization (CANSO) with a better understanding of airline requirements will mark another positive step toward the industry 2020 target of being carbon neutral.

Areas of improvement

The fuel efficiency strategy should help realize big savings for airlines. There are a few big ticket items that always pop up. Cost Index Optimization is one. The cost index is calculated by dividing the cost of time by the cost of fuel so the Flight Management System (FMS) can determine the right balance and suggest the optimum profile for a flight. The cost of time includes crews, aircraft time-dependent maintenance, and delay costs. When this is weighed against the cost of fuel the FMS can determine the correct performance settings for the aircraft in its current environment.

Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) usage is another area of improvement, as is greater alternate airport choice. This would benefit the CO2 environmental impact by reducing the alternate fuel requirements. Then there is the amount of potable water. Most of the time, the amount required is significantly less than the capacity of the potable water tank. Filling the water tank to capacity means extra weight, leading to additional fuel burn and increased CO2 emissions. Best practice is to optimize the amount of water loaded on the aircraft based on number of passengers carried and length of flight.

Fuel efficiency efforts extend throughout operations. Unit Load Devices (ULDs)—the containers used for storing luggage and cargo—are a case in point. No ULDs can be as much as 25 kilograms lighter than traditional models. Finnair believes its new containers, provided by Nordisk, will save 800,000 kilograms in fuel and more than 2.5 million kilograms of CO2 annually.

The overall figures underline the effectiveness of fuel efficiency efforts to date. The industry has always hit or surpassed the 1.5% fuel efficiency improvement target since it was introduced. In 2011, the industry achieved 2% fuel efficiency.

“We are driving fuel efficiency forward,” adds Fodor. “This will benefit all partners and, of course, go a long way to reducing aviation’s impact on the environment.”


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