Airlines ready and waiting for efficiency gains

Advances in aircraft materials, engine technology and air-traffic systems have positioned airlines for the biggest gains in fuel efficiency since the dawn of the jet age in the late 1950s.

The Associated Press reports that airlines’ urgency to reduce fuel use is being driven by two trends: rising oil prices and tougher environmental regulations.

It takes an average of 22 gallons of fuel to fly a passenger 1,000 miles vs. 46 in 1980, according to an AP analysis of Department of Transportation data. Experts say the coming improvements could bring that number below 18 within a decade.

Here are some of the plans by airlines and aircraft and engine manufacturers, according to AP:

— Boeing and Airbus are building long-range jets — the 787 Dreamliner and A350, respectively — with half of their bodies made of carbon-fiber composites. The carbon-fiber weighs 20 percent less than traditional aluminum alloy.

— A joint venture of Pratt & Whitney and CFM are unveiling engines that promise to cut fuel use by 15 percent. The engines are designed for single-aisle planes, which account for more than 75 percent of jets worldwide. Pratt & Whitney’s engine adds gears — like a car transmission — that let different parts of the engine operate at different speeds. CFM’s engine allows for higher temperatures.

— A U.S. satellite-based air traffic control system that’s several years away could cut fuel consumption by 12 percent. Airlines and the government are fighting over who will pay for it.

— Aerodynamic improvements to jets, including vertical extensions at the tip of each wing called “winglets” prevent drag. They’ve been around for a while, but are being used on a wider range of planes.

— Carrying less weight inside a plane reduces fuel consumption. Every pound removed from a plane saves 30 gallons of fuel a year. American Airlines is replacing 19,000 catering carts with models that weigh 16 pounds less. Southwest is testing seat covers made of lighter fabric.


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