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Rollingthunder
8th Aug 2008, 19:49
Pilots complain airlines restrict fuel to cut cost
By JOAN LOWY 2 hours ago

WASHINGTON (AP) Pilots are complaining that their airline bosses, desperate to cut costs, are forcing them to fly uncomfortably low on fuel.

Safety for passengers and crews could be compromised, they say.

The situation got bad enough three years ago, even before the latest surge in fuel prices, that NASA sent a safety alert to federal aviation officials.

No action.

Since then, pilots, flight dispatchers and others have continued to sound off with their own warnings, yet the Federal Aviation Administration says there is no reason to order airlines to back off their effort to keep fuel loads to a minimum.

"We can't dabble in the business policies or the personnel policies of an airline," said FAA spokesman Les Dorr. He said there was no indication safety regulations were being violated.

The September 2005 safety alert was issued by NASA's confidential Aviation Safety Reporting System, which allows air crews to report safety problems without fear their names will be disclosed.

"What we found was that because they carried less fuel on the airplane, they were getting into situations where they had to tell air traffic control, 'I need to get on the ground,'" said Linda Connell, director of the NASA reporting system.

With fuel prices now their biggest cost, airlines are aggressively enforcing new policies designed to reduce consumption.

In March, for example, an airline pilot told NASA he landed his regional jet with less fuel than required by FAA regulations. "Looking back," he said, "I would have liked more gas yesterday." He also complained that his airline was "ranking" captains according to who landed with the least amount.

A month earlier, a Boeing 747 captain reported running low on fuel after meeting strong headwinds crossing the Atlantic en route to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. He said he wanted to stop to add fuel but continued on to Kennedy after consulting his airline's operations manager, who told him there was adequate fuel aboard the jet.

When the plane arrived at Kennedy, the captain said it had so little fuel that had there been any delay in landing, "I would have had to declare a fuel emergency" a term that tells air traffic controllers a plane needs immediate priority to land.

The last major U.S. air crash attributed to low fuel was on Jan. 25, 1990, when an Avianca Boeing 707 ran out while waiting to land at Kennedy. Seventy-three of 158 aboard were killed.

FAA regulations require airliners to take off with enough fuel to reach their destination or an alternate airport, plus another 45 minutes of flight. The regulations also say it's up to dispatchers and pilots to decide the size of fuel loads, with pilots making the final call.

Spare fuel beyond the minimum required by FAA is often added to airliners to allow for weather or airport delays. That adds weight, which burns more fuel and increases a plane's operating cost. A Washington-to-Los Angeles flight by an Airbus 320 with 150 passengers burns about 29,500 pounds, or 4,300 gallons, of fuel. That costs about $14,600. Adding an additional 1,500 pounds, about 219 gallons, would cost about $750 more.

Complaints about airlines scrimping on fuel aren't limited to those submitted to the NASA system.

Labor unions at two major airlines American Airlines and US Airways have filed complaints with FAA, saying the airlines are pressuring members not to request spare fuel for flights.

American notified dispatchers on July 7 that their records on fuel approved for flights would be monitored, and dispatchers not abiding by company guidelines could ultimately be fired.

American said its fuel costs this year were expected to increase to $10 billion, a 52 percent over 2007. "The additional cost of carrying unnecessary fuel adversely affects American's financial success," the airline told dispatchers in a letter.

Union officials responded that "it appears safety has become a second thought" for the company.

At US Airways, the pilots' union took out an ad in USA Today on July 16 charging that eight senior captains had been singled out by the company for requesting extra fuel and had been required to attend training sessions. The union said the training order was a message to other pilots not to request extra fuel.

American and US Airways blame the complaints on heated labor negotiations both are in contract talks with the complaining unions.

"It's not a safety issue; it's a contract issue," said John Hotard, a spokesman for American.

US Airways said in a statement to its employees that the eight captains had been adding fuel "well in excess of the norm."

FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said the agency has conducted several analyses of airline fuel practices but found no instances of the minimum being violated or pilots' fuel requests being denied.

"We didn't see any proposed changes we thought needed to be made," Brown said.

Department of Transportation Inspector General Calvin Scovel recommended in April that the FAA take a nationwide look at airline fuel practices. Five months later, the agency is still developing a survey to send to its inspectors at each airline and has no schedule for sending it out.

Scovel also said the number of pilots reporting low fuel on approach to Newark Liberty International Airport tripled from 2005 to 2007. More than half were Continental Airlines flights, the dominant carrier at Newark.

He suggested the airline was pressuring pilots "to either not stop for fuel when needed or to carry insufficient amounts of fuel." His letter cited two bulletins from Continental's management urging pilots and flight crews to cut back on fuel, including one that noted "adding fuel indiscriminately reduces profit sharing and possibly pension funding."

But Scovel's review of 20 Newark-bound flights out of 151 reporting low fuel on approach in 2007 found none with less than 45-minutes worth of spare fuel.

Former National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Jim Hall said the situation merits an industrywide investigation by Scovel.

"It's a safety-of-flight issue and it needs to be treated as such," said Hall, now a transportation safety consultant. "If dispatchers and pilots are saying the airlines are pressuring them, and it's having a chilling effect on the decisions they make every day in regard to the fuel loads, and it looks it's like eroding the authority of the pilot in command, then that issue needs the attention of the government regulators who are there to oversee the system."

daikilo
8th Aug 2008, 20:28
As far as I am aware, all airlines comply with reserve fuel policies compliant with their Airworthiness Authorities rules. The purpose of these reserves is to cover normal operation and most of the exceptional cases. It is generally considered to be the pilot's responsibility to identify if "actual" conditions will lead to exceedence of this exceptional case.

What I hope is being suggested here is additional fuel above these reserves without a clearly identified justification. Risk management is imperative, personal margins in the pocket are not productive.

It is difficult to criticise when you have followed the rules to the letter. We are in this business together.

BANANASBANANAS
9th Aug 2008, 06:02
My previous airline required the Commander to sign in the Tech Log to accept the aeroplane. The wording above the signature stated 'I accept that there is sufficient fuel and oil on board for the purpose of the intended flight.'

Where I work now, there is no such acceptance signature required but I have never had a call from Management asking me to justify extra fuel. The responsible attitude adopted by the company means, in turn, that I think long and hard before loading any extra fuel - but if I feel I need it, I load it. The only league tables I am interested in are related to sports not fuel burn.

tightcircuit
9th Aug 2008, 11:37
Well if crews operating under FAA rules are carrying alternate fuel plus 45 mins reserve then they are already 15 mins better off than under JAR ops rules which specify alternate fuel plus 30 mins.

My company encourages us to avoid adding extra fuel unless there is a good reason and they are correct to do so. They accept however that an occasional tech stop may be required due to unforseen circumstances and would never question a captain's decision to do that. A healthy attitude I believe.

topjetboy
9th Aug 2008, 15:30
A month earlier, a Boeing 747 captain reported running low on fuel after meeting strong headwinds crossing the Atlantic en route to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. He said he wanted to stop to add fuel but continued on to Kennedy after consulting his airline's operations manager, who told him there was adequate fuel aboard the jet.

What?!
:ugh::confused::mad::eek::=

White Knight
9th Aug 2008, 16:11
topjetboy- my thoughts exactly.... What captain worth his position would accept the word of a ground-gripper:sad:

I usually carry min fuel (for those of you boys and girls who'll get excited - that's trip, alternate, contingency and final), but wx, ATC probs etc it's my job to carry extra.. But why carry every flight? Makes me kind of wonder if some guys are unsure of their own or the aircraft capabilities..... Or how to use the FMS:confused:

And the fact that the last public transport large jet ran out of fuel 18 years ago kind of tells me that most fuel policies seem to work fine.... Especially in light of the fact that there are quite a few aeroplanes running off runways. The extra fuel didn't help them did it?

Avman
9th Aug 2008, 16:50
To get a better idea, it would be interesting to know the ballpark figures for the cost of say 30 mins extra fuel (above all legal requirements) versus the cost of a tech stop to refuel for a B747-400 say.

USAPASUCKS
9th Aug 2008, 18:06
The eight AAA captains should have been fired for wasting fuel in this economy. This was nothing more than a stunt ordered by the SCAB union USAPA.

In my 20 years at AWA I have never been asked to carry less fuel than I needed. It is irresponsible to waste fuel. These malcontents are taxing on both engines and the apu in an attempt to prove a point...that they are smarted than management. the sad thing is they will ruin this airline to satify their own selfish egos.

J.O.
9th Aug 2008, 18:36
Maybe you meant to say this, but what you really need to know is the cost of the rare unplanned tech stop versus the cost of carrying the extra fuel which would have prevented that rare tech stop, except that it's carried on every other flight that didn't need it. My company (A320s and B757s) did such an analysis and an unplanned tech stop costs an average of approximately $8,000 USD, while carrying 10 minutes of extra fuel on every flight costs in the hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. You'd need to do alot of tech stops to justify that extra cost.

Pugilistic Animus
9th Aug 2008, 21:14
Maybe you meant to say this, but what you really need to know is the cost of the rare unplanned tech stop versus the cost of carrying the extra fuel which would have prevented that rare tech stop


could cost you a bunch of pax---they're not very understanding:}

blueloo
9th Aug 2008, 21:25
average of approximately $8,000 USD

That must be the lower end of the average - how bout the tech stops when you have to put several hundred punters up in hotel rooms, because the crew have run out of hours, curfew etc.

oceancrosser
9th Aug 2008, 22:16
A month earlier, a Boeing 747 captain reported running low on fuel after meeting strong headwinds crossing the Atlantic en route to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. He said he wanted to stop to add fuel but continued on to Kennedy after consulting his airline's operations manager, who told him there was adequate fuel aboard the jet.

Interesting comment. I cant get a hold of my operations manager during office hours, let alone inflight... :ugh:

captjns
9th Aug 2008, 22:46
We could always find our SOC at the Orlando FL TGIFs at the bar. Mostly under the bar.:}