Wednesday, August 13, 2008
How about a fuel tip jar at airport counters?
by Larry Geller
[I’m trying to get some data for Hawaii. In the meantime, here’s the issue.]
Airline fuel policy might be safe, but it's unnecessary
This news has been disappeared because the airline industry doesn’t want you to worry, dear passenger, just keep on buying their tickets. But I worry, and you should too. Read this and join me in my concern:
A little more than four hours into the flight, the pilot reported that we’d be landing about half an hour ahead of schedule, and flight attendants began collecting trash in preparation for our approach. Perhaps ten minutes later the pilot announced that we’d have to slow down a little to get in line for landing, but we’d still get in well ahead of schedule. I was thrilled; this would be my first flight in at least a year that landed on time, perhaps I could call a friend for dinner.
And then, just a few minutes later, the pilot came on the P.A. system again. “Uh, folks, we’re going to make a quick stop for refueling.” Huh? Passengers looked at each other in surprise. Flight attendants passed rapidly through the cabin checking seat backs and tray tables and strapped themselves in. Minutes later, we landed at Stewart Air National Guard Base, less than 100 miles from our destination. After a long taxi past National Guard cargo planes, we parked and waited for the fuel trucks. [Airlines: Got Fuel?, IEEE Spectrum, August 2008]
So here we are in middle of the Pacific Ocean. Imagine that you’re on a flight that’s low on gas. There’s no National Guard base out in the water.
Why did that plane run out of fuel? Because it costs money to have too much fuel and to have to carry it to the destination. So airlines now think about cutting back that reserve.
Here’s the deal:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration requires that an aircraft carry enough fuel to reach its destination and the most distant alternate airport, plus an extra 45 minutes’ worth. It’s not to an airline’s advantage to carry any more than the minimum requirement: more fuel means a heavier plane, and a heavier plane gets worse mileage.
But there’s a helpful loophole. A plane can carry less fuel and simply file a “minimum fuel declaration.” (See the article for details.)
The Dept. of Transportation Inspector General is investigating a rash of these declarations filed by Continental at Newark Liberty International Airport.