(Editor’s Note: The following story first appeared in Aircraft IT Operations Magazine, August/September 2015. This version, reprinted with permission from Aircraft IT, was edited for space.)
Although the cost of oil has dropped abruptly and considerably in the past year, airlines are planning for prices to resume their upward trend soon. Even if fuel costs were to remain stable, fuel efficiency is something that airlines need to relentlessly pursue to remain profitable. In addition to cost pressure, airlines are also facing enormous pressure to reduce their environmental impact by reducing fuel burn and associated emissions.
Aeromexico, Mexico’s largest airline, created some unique strategies to meet, and exceed, the fuel efficiency and environmental challenges all airlines face. Their commitment to core principals, along with straightforward analysis of their operations, combined for some noteworthy savings.
Throughout much of Aeromexico’s 80-year history, the airline has been committed to reducing fuel usage and emissions. This is important to note because the success of any fuel reduction program is inextricably linked to long-term commitment. Teamwork is another important factor in the airline’s success because fuel efficiency involves many parts of the business, including flight planning, technical operations and flight operations. Last, but far from least, there has to be partnership with equipment manufacturers. In Aeromexico’s case, Boeing was a proud partner in helping the airline optimize its fuel savings and reduce its emissions.
Arrival Fuel Project Presents Challenge and Opportunity
Aeromexico’s arrival fuel project began in April 2013 with an initial assessment that identified eight opportunities to save on fuel for the Next-Generation 737 fleet. The assessment showed potential savings of up to $16 million USD per year, based on average fuel price of $3.20 per gallon.
This graphic representation shows the project team’s estimation of the value of the eight opportunities by time (vertical scale), difficulty (horizontal scale) and size. Most of the small and medium sized opportunities were typical initiatives. It was soon clear that the single largest identifiable opportunity was arrival fuel. This, however, is also the most difficult and time consuming area in which to implement change.
Aeromexico’s 2013 assessment showed that their airplanes carried an average of about 4,200 kg of arrival fuel per flight, sufficient for about 1 hour and 45 minutes of flying time—this is more than the minimum regulatory requirement. Aeromexico’s flight operations team believed that reducing contingency fuel to 60 minutes of flying time was an achievable goal. Of note is the industry average of anywhere between 1 hour and 15 minutes to up to 2 hours 30 minutes worth of arrival fuel
The arrival fuel program at Aeromexico began with a focus on good weather operations; in bad weather, additional fuel is required to account for unexpected delays and a greater potential for diversions. Fair weather operations created a better platform to develop a new statistical arrival fuel policy for calculating the minimum correct amount of fuel to load. This new amount would be considerably lower than was previous used. In order to calculate takeoff fuel in a way that would significantly enhance operational reliability, a policy was put in place to make use of alternate landing sites along the route. Instead of holding at a destination and diverting when aircraft ran low on fuel, pilots are encouraged to make technical stops enroute if it appeared likely that there was an issue with proceeding to a destination. Operational reliability is enhanced because recovery from a technical stop is much quicker than recovery from a diversion. Fuel can be reduced, because the destination alternate is almost never used.
A statistical review of more than 137,000 flights was conducted as part of the implementation. As a result, 30 of 44 destination alternates were changed to close paper alternates. Also, new operational alternatives were selected for 102 routes in order to implement the new enroute technical stop policy. These changes resulted in new standard operating procedures (SOPs), approval from Mexico’s Direccion General de Aeronautica Civil, and extensive training to facilitate the needed culture shift. The successful implementation would not have been possible without the support of pilots and dispatchers as well.
Results That Speak for Themselves
This chart illustrates the arrival fuel program over the year from commencement, to go-live, to additional refinements made through the first year of the program. Aeromexico has managed to reduce average additional arrival fuel from about 4,200 kg in 2013-14 to 2014-15 figures at or below 4,000 kg. Since February 2015, this figure has fallen to the initial target of 3,000 kg. From these results, the project team is confident that Aeromexico will reach the final goal bringing additional arrival fuel down to 2,400 kg. Put into financial values, an average reduction of 1,000 kg in arrival fuel of the 737 fleet would translate to a 1.5% reduction in consumption rate, a $7 million USD savings.
Aeromexico set a target to reduce its fuel use in 2014 by 1%, enough to save 13 million liters of fuel worth $9.8 million USD. The airline actually beat that target; saving 13.7 million liters of fuel worth $10.2 million USD. Clearly, fuel savings quickly add up to significant numbers.
When fuel prices inevitably rise again, fuel savings will rise along with them. In the airline industry, where profit margins are so slender, these savings are a significant savings to the bottom line.
To read the entire story about Aeromexico’s arrival fuel program in the Aircraft IT Operations Journal, click here. If you’d like to learn more about creating a fuel savings program of your own, contact the Boeing consulting team at ProfessionalServices@boeing.com.