Weight vs fuel saving

2012-06-06 08:26
So the petrol price is set to fall once again, putting it lower than it’s been in the last six months. But let’s be honest, none of us would raise an eyebrow if a reported hike was announced for next month.  The price of this limited commodity has been about as unstable as the turbulence you’d expect to experience on a long-haul flight. Yet according to the International Air Travel Association global air travel figures are up – so much so that there is an expect 6% annual increase in comparison to 2011.

Even so, airlines are still feeling the pinch in the uncomfortable regions of their profit margins. SAA's decision to axe its direct flight from Cape Town to London is a clear indication of this, adding to the scathing after-effects of high fuel prices and taxes, stacked to swiftly knock the last man standing - you the passenger.

Sure, airlines have become innovative and creative over the years in their approach to saving. I don’t think there is a passenger alive who does not know the American Airlines olive campaign - salads that were a little less Greek apparently saved the airline millions. Despite all of this the airlines has just filed for bankruptcy protection.
So while we might not miss one pitted little fruit from an in-flight meal, the same cannot be said for a toilet.

As controversy arose from budget airline 1Time’s recent fuel-saving announcement, CEO Blacky Komani was quick to set the record straight, stating that the low cost airline was not planning to remove ‘all’ its toilets – only the one in the front of the plane, leaving two fully functional toilets to service roughly 136 passengers.

“The toilets are heavy and weigh 600kg, significantly impacting fuel usage, thus for us this is a logical move. I would like to clarify that the move will not in any way impact the customer experience offered by 1time”

Logical indeed, especially if you’re not the one who has to knuip a few thousand meters in the air. Just because it’s received approval from the Civil Aviation Authority, doesn’t necessarily make it okay.

Add to this the pressure of the European Union carbon scheme, in effect since January 2012, who knows what other measures airlines will resort to. But the race to remain competitive and affordable, 1Time cannot alone bear the brunt caused by these fuel-saving measures employed by airlines.

The worst of the lot would have to be when boarding a Ryan Air flight. You can still find toilets on board but if they had their way you’d have to pay to use them. Your safety card now takes the format of a sticker on the back of the seat in front of you and if you’re thinking of catching a bit of shuteye to make the flight go faster, reclining your seat also won’t be an option since the additional parts have been removed. You also won’t find any fold-down tables or magazines, 180 in-flight magazines can weigh quite a bit.  In fact, if it hadn’t been for regulation restrictions Rynair would see you standing all the way to your next destination. They’ve also ditched the eco-friendly metal cutlery in favour of plastic. But hey, at least they’ll be using less fuel, right?

Gone are the days when you would be charged for your excess baggage on Kulula. While it is standard procedure for low-cost airlines to charge between R25 and R30/kg of extra luggage, Kulula has decided to go with a "piece concept". If you do happen to bring along another bag, you’ll have to paying a once off fee of R250 irrespective of the weight. International carrier Lufthansa has also implemented the one-piece policy and passengers have to fork out as much €150 or about R1 550 for any extras.

European low cost carrier EasyJet has looked at its pre-flight planning, ground operations and new coatings for its aircraft in its attempt to improve fuel efficiency. Their aggressive policies on weight saving considers everything from in-flight magazines to the number of toilet rolls and the amount of water on board.

All these measures considered, as a passenger air travel might seem pretty dismal save for a few other efficiencies aimed at improving the experience rather than making you feel like herded cattle.

Long haul flights still hold the promise of Boeing's Dreamliner. With wings and fuselage literally made out of plastic, means it uses 20% less fuel than other planes reduces maintenance costs by 30%. With an inevitable international carbon charge program, already 15 years int he making, hopefully agreed upon at next UN Civil Aviation Organisation meeting in 2013, this carbon-composite aeroplane might just be the light at the end of a rather turbulent tunnel.

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