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Old 05-01-2008, 12:21 PM   #1  
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Default Airlines slow down flights to save on fuel

Is it true that you guys are slowing down or asked to slow down? The media has a poor reputation with me so why not ask the the people who actually do the work.

It would seem a moot point if the flight happens to encounter strong headwinds. Anyway, I don't mind a slightly longer flight if it can help. I already slow down when driving; I'm the one driving like grandma on I-5.


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From Associated Press:

NEW YORK - Drivers have long known that slowing down on the highway means getting more miles to the gallon. Now airlines are trying it, too adding a few minutes to flights to save millions on fuel.

Southwest Airlines started flying slower about two months ago, and projects it will save $42 million in fuel this year by extending each flight by one to three minutes.

On one Northwest Airlines flight from Paris to Minneapolis earlier this week alone, flying slower saved 162 gallons of fuel, saving the airline $535. It added eight minutes to the flight, extending it to eight hours, 58 minutes.

That meant flying at an average speed of 532 mph, down from the usual 542 mph.

"It's not a dramatic change," said Dave Fuller, director of flight operations at JetBlue, which began flying slower two years ago.

But the savings add up. JetBlue adds an average of just under two minutes to each flight, and saves about $13.6 million a year in jet fuel. Adding just four minutes to its flights to and from Hawaii saves Northwest Airlines $600,000 a year on those flights alone.

United Airlines has invested in flight planning software that helps pilots choose the best routes and speeds. In some cases, that means planes fly at lower speeds. United estimates the software will save it $20 million a year.

"What we're doing is flying at a more consistent speed to save fuel," said Megan McCarthy, a United spokeswoman.

United expects to pay $3.31 a gallon for fuel this year not much less than what the average American driver pays for a gallon of unleaded at the pump. Southwest, which has an aggressive fuel hedging program, expects to pay about $2.35.

Fliers, already beleaguered by higher fares, more delays and long security lines, may not even notice the extra minutes. The extra flight time is added to published flight schedules or absorbed into the extra time already built into schedules for taxiing and traffic delays.

"If saving fuel costs me a few extra minutes out of my day, then ... my inconvenience is nothing," said Leah Nichols, a television producer who lives in San Francisco and was fresh off a flight at Newark Liberty International Airport, waiting for a train to New York. "I'm cool with that."

David Gannalo, a Phoenix financial software company executive, is more than willing to give up four minutes to help airlines cut costs.

"Anything that helps the airlines, you know, because they're going bankrupt left and right," Gannalo said. "Anything that helps them out will probably be good for the industry in the long term."

Across the board, airlines are feeling the pain of higher energy prices. For jet fuel delivered at New York Harbor, the spot price airlines pay it when they need more fuel than they've already locked down in a contract has jumped 73 percent in the past year, to $3.54 a gallon, according to government data.

Airlines are trying other measures as well to deal with higher fuel costs, including raising fares, adding fuel surcharges to tickets and charging extra for a second checked bag rather than a third.

It's a tough time for the airline industry. Several smaller airlines have filed for bankruptcy protection in recent weeks, many citing high fuel costs. Fuel costs have also resulted in sharp first-quarter losses by some airlines.

Not every airline is taking the slowdown approach.

"We have the flying schedule to protect," said John Hotard, a spokesman for American Airlines. He said the carrier does other things to save fuel for instance, installing small vertical stabilizers called winglets to the ends of some aircraft wings, which boosts fuel efficiency by improving aerodynamics.

American also tries to keep its planes plugged in to ground-based power and air conditioning for as long as possible to conserve fuel, and pushes air traffic controllers to assign its flights to altitudes where they will have less headwind or greater tailwind. Many other airlines have adopted similar measures.

Slowing flights down isn't a magic bullet. It can help airlines conserve fuel, but it can also lead to greater labor and maintenance costs if airline employees work longer hours and planes spend more time in service, said Bob Mann, an independent airline consultant based in Port Washington, N.Y.

And slowing down to conserve fuel can only be pushed so far: Below a certain speed which varies depending on the plane an aircraft's fuel usage can actually rise.

Airlines must strike a delicate balance, seeking an aircraft's "sweet spot" on fuel use without slowing down so much that other costs, and flight delays, rise, Mann said: "Everything's a tradeoff."

Consumer advocates say 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," said Travis Plunkett, legislative director at the Consumer Federation of America.

But others doubt the change will result in lower fares any more than previous cost cutting, such as eliminating meals or taking away blankets.

"I don't think so," Mann said. "When they took off the mystery meat, did they lower fares?"
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Old 05-01-2008, 12:37 PM   #2  
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We (NK) have been using a pretty low cost index for the past few months. It doesn't do much to lower the cruise speed, which is still mostly M 0.78, but it does lower our managed climb and descent planned speeds. So it typically does add a few minutes per leg.
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Old 05-01-2008, 12:43 PM   #3  
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Originally Posted by dundem View Post
We (NK) have been using a pretty low cost index for the past few months. It doesn't do much to lower the cruise speed, which is still mostly M 0.78, but it does lower our managed climb and descent planned speeds. So it typically does add a few minutes per leg.
Yeah...fun slow descents (260..270 kts..)
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Old 05-01-2008, 12:49 PM   #4  
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At Horizon they just instituted reduced power settings for even the Q400. The next reported phase is to be even further reduce power settings based on wind. i.e. you have a 50 knot tail wind your gonna reduce your airspeed by 50 knots TAS to burn less fuel for the same arrival time. I just hope they dont start basing Min Total numbers on the forecast winds aloft.
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Old 05-01-2008, 12:51 PM   #5  
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I can say that some of us, without management, have taken it upon ourselves to slowdown, we still get there on time, just with a little more fuel. We figure it is a good thing to do, kind of like job preservation. If we help with the fuel we may avoid down sizing.

Now I fly a turbo-prop and our legs are short and over-blocked so it makes it easier to stay on schedule while not pushing the engines. It's not a huge difference only about 100-200 lbs per leg of savings, but like the govt says "a billion here, a billion there before you know it, you are taking real money"
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Old 05-01-2008, 01:16 PM   #6  
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I'm seeing more and more flights blocked at .74 instead of .78 and I'm seeing a difference in fuel burn. The 170 burns about 150pph less per side by slowing down and it might cost all of 5 minutes. 5 minutes isn't much when you figure it's saving about 75 gallons over a 2 hour flight.

Upside, I go a few minutes over block from time to time
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Old 05-01-2008, 01:26 PM   #7  
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yeah we are trying to save fuel at .77, then we get a release that states ".81 to make up time" for our on time departure so.........yeah sometimes dispatch is still a bit lost. But yeah if we look to be early some capt will slow it back to .74
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Old 05-01-2008, 01:51 PM   #8  
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Quote:
Originally Posted by vagabond View Post
Is it true that you guys are slowing down or asked to slow down? The media has a poor reputation with me so why not ask the the people who actually do the work.

It would seem a moot point if the flight happens to encounter strong headwinds. Anyway, I don't mind a slightly longer flight if it can help. I already slow down when driving; I'm the one driving like grandma on I-5.
COMAIR has been doing that for two years now and has proven very successful. We have caught the brunt of many jokes in the air but the reality is it does save fuel and money. Happy to see everyone else getting on board and saving fuel thus possibly saving jobs from furlough
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Old 05-01-2008, 02:02 PM   #9  
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All our flights on the -900 are planned at M.77 I could see them asking us to fly slower though since fuel is so costly now.
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Old 05-01-2008, 02:09 PM   #10  
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Originally Posted by p1ayn View Post
COMAIR has been doing that for two years now and has proven very successful. We have caught the brunt of many jokes in the air but the reality is it does save fuel and money. Happy to see everyone else getting on board and saving fuel thus possibly saving jobs from furlough
Flying at Mach .62 makes sense only if you are at FL180. In the upper 20s and 30s however, every mainline plane getting behind you is way on the back side of the power curve. If the RJ burns 200 PPH per engine more at high speed but the Boeings are able to cruise more efficiently than that's what the flight planners should look at.
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