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Landing on empty: estimating the benefits from reducing fuel uplift in US Civil Aviation

  • Author(s): Ryerson, Megan S
  • Hansen, Mark
  • Hao, Lu
  • Seelhorst, Michael
  • et al.

Published Web Location

http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/10/9/094002/meta
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Abstract

Airlines and Air Navigation Service Providers are united in their goal to reduce fuel consumption. While changes to flight operations and technology investments are the focus of a number of studies, our study is among the first to investigate an untapped source of aviation fuel consumption: excess contingency fuel loading. Given the downside risk of fuel exhaustion of diverting to an alternate airport, airline dispatchers may load excess fuel onto an aircraft. Such conservatism comes at a cost of consuming excess fuel, as fuel consumed is a function of, among other factors, aircraft weight. The aim of this paper is to quantify, on a per-flight basis, the fuel burned due to carrying fuel beyond what is needed for foreseeable contingencies, and thereby motivate research, federal guidance, and investments that allow airline dispatchers to reduce fuel uplift while maintaining near zero risks of fuel exhaustion. We merge large publicly available aviation and weather databases with a detailed dataset from a major US airline. Upon estimating factors that capture the quantity fuel consumed due to carrying a pound of weight for a range of aircraft types, we calculate the cost and greenhouse gas emissions from carrying unused fuel on arrival and additional contingency fuel above a conservative buffer for foreseeable contingencies. We establish that the major US carrier does indeed load fuel conservatively. We find that 4.48% of the fuel consumed by an average flight is due to carrying unused fuel and 1.04% of the fuel consumed by an average flight is due to carrying additional contingency fuel above a reasonable buffer. We find that simple changes in flight dispatching that maintain a statistically minimal risk of fuel exhaustion could result in yearly savings of 338 million lbs of CO2, the equivalent to the fuel consumed from 4760 flights on midsized commercial aircraft. Moreover, policy changes regarding maximum fuel loads or investments that reduce uncertainty or increase the ability to plan flights under uncertainty could yield far greater benefits.

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