Profit margins are tight and will continue to tighten with increasing fuel prices and the inevitable carbon pricing in North America.
Welcome to the third episode of the JumpSeat Podcast with Chris Glass and our guest, Ryan Pepper, where they explore the topic of fuel savings and lowering emissions to improve operational efficiency for airlines.
In this episode, Ryan elaborates on the difficulties he faced during his role as a former member of an airline fuel council. He explains the challenges that hinder airlines from fully realizing their fuel savings and emissions reduction initiatives, which could mean losing out on millions in profits. As fuel prices rise and net zero initiatives continue, how can timely data retrieval and insights help airlines save fuel, lower CO2 emissions, and improve operations? Learn about the capabilities and the value of FLYHT’s ready-to-use FuelSense software, designed to tackle obstacles that impede operational efficiency with an intuitive interface.
Thanks so much for joining us this week. We are eager to share more exciting new episodes planned for release in the following weeks. Don’t want to miss out on hot topics in aviation? Subscribe to our notification list and tune in to our next episode of the JumpSeat!
Learn more about FuelSense and how it works or contact our sales team to customize a solution for your operations.
Hello, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to another addition of the JumpSeat podcast. As always, my name is Chris Glass, I am a product owner here with FLYHT Aerospace. And today I am with…
Ryan Pepper. I’m also product owner at FLYHT.
Ryan, welcome to the pod!
I thought it would be a really good time for us to get to know your product FuelSense, and get to know a little bit about yourself , where you came from, and how you landed on this product and where you see it going in the future.
Yeah. So, my background is in flight dispatch. I spent many years as a dispatcher , as a manager of dispatch and eventually working on the fuel council for a major Canadian airline.
So, tell me a bit about that fuel council, because I was able to experience that with you and saw some of the challenges, but walk me through what that looked like.
So , what the major goal obviously was to reduce fuel burn at the airline and thus expenses. We took on many different initiatives, brought in many different groups from around the airline to try to collaborate on some of the more complex ways in which an airline can save fuel.
Now, what was some of the challenges with that fuel council? I remember it being a very manual process, but can you elaborate on that?
Yeah, absolutely. Obviously, there are competing priorities which govern many of the different groups. So, that was the first challenge to overcome. There was also the problem of acquiring the data to make the objective decisions that you needed to make. And sometimes that could take quite a while [for the airplane] to get the data, it could be a challenge to get data [off the airplane], or it could be incomplete or incorrect.
Yeah. I do remember a lot of manual charts, a lot of Excel spreadsheets , a lot of things like that which didn’t necessarily happen in real time . All right, so when we were back in the fuel council , I remember access to information being very difficult. Could you walk me through the process it took at that airline to get data off the plane and into the hands of people who could make decisions?
Yeah, absolutely. So, the process was that the data lived on the aircraft and needed to be manually removed from the aircraft on a regular cycle by maintenance staff. They would replace the memory card , put the memory card into an envelope with a bunch of other memory cards. When beneficial, send it off to the headquarters for analysis , that would then be put it into a computer. And then, and only then was it available. And that delay could be up to five or six months from the time of the flight landed until the data was available for analysis.
Wow! So , event happens on the plane, it gets recorded on the cards and then it would sit on somebody’s desk, and you’d collect enough of those cards, send them back to the base that actually filed them. And you’d be looking at least four to six [months] at best for that information to come off. What do we have in the hopper here at FLYHT that could help with that?
Yeah, absolutely. So, the analysis end of the product, so FuelSense brings all the data together to be able to visually display the different fuel savings initiatives that airlines employ.
And then how do we go about getting this information faster to avoid downloading the cards, sending the cards, dealing with that whole process. That sounds like it’s labor intensive and it sounds like it’s time intensive. How can I cut that out?
Yeah. So , there are a number of different ways you can, the most efficient is a wireless QAR program. So FLYHT’s answer to this problem is the AFIRS Edge product, which is able to instantly transfer all of the QAR data from the 717 bus (ARINC-717), the FDR, and the FMS, the 429 bus (ARINC-429) instantly upon the aircraft landing.
So, I’m saying plane takes off, flies to the city, lands, and the moment it lands that data gets transmitted and we’re able to consume it and make a decision based on that?
Wow. That’s a much better way of doing things than the old-fashioned way.
Excellent! What else can FuelSense do in combination with a product like the AFIRS Edge?
So, what FuelSense does is takes the QAR data in and the information in various fuel savings initiatives. Be they pilot initiatives or ground operations, which typically is actually quite difficult, even for a lot of wireless QAR programs . FLYHT’s advantages that data is always being recorded. So, we do have full visibility on the complete turn of the aircraft on the ground .
And if you have that in real time , you could give that information out and make decisions based around that.
You sure can.
How successful was that fuel council ? Were you able to remove expenses from that airline?
Yea, absolutely. We managed to save a fair amount of fuel , but many of the challenges resulted in the fact that we were not able to save as much fuel as we wanted.
Right. Now , for an airline of a hundred or so aircraft, can you give me an idea of what kind of spend that airline would be looking at as an overall fuel bucket?
Yeah, sure. So , likely close to or up to a billion dollars in spend , depending on the aircraft size, obviously.
So, behind buying the aircrafts themselves and getting people to operate them, that’s a massive operating expense.
Yeah, typically about 30% of the airlines total budget.
Now, how much could we save if we, if not changing anything to do with safety or any sort of the third rails of airlines — what is the variable spend on fuel? What are we looking at?
You’re probably looking at, realistically, about a half a percent to 4% , and that’s dependent entirely on how the airline is and how far along they are in their fuel efficiency evolution.
And what would that translate? Like I said, a billion-dollar company on fuel, what would that look like?
Yeah, up to $40 million.
$40 million by simply focusing on initiatives that they can control.
Excellent. Now, I know a lot of continuous improvement groups with airlines focus on staffing. They focus on providing a cheaper product , those sorts of things. The advantage to this is, this is just completely controllable costs.
Right. So, what sort of initiatives would be looking at tackling with FuelSense before we get into the demo, why don’t we just talk about the separate initiatives and why they’re important?
Yeah, absolutely. So, there’s three main areas of fuel efficiency. There are pilot procedures, so things that pilots can do to fly the airplane more fuel efficiently while still maintaining safety; There’s ground operations, so maintaining the most efficient ground operation typically results in a lower fuel bill; And there’s also the cost of carriage aspect in the flight planning aspect, so reducing the unnecessary carrying of fuel that gets burned in order to carry the fuel.
Right. So, let’s start out with the flight procedures. You want to walk me through what those are and how we could institute change there?
Yeah, absolutely. So, IATA had come up with a document that highlights seven different areas of fuel efficiency for pilot best practices . And that’s what we’ve built into the product is the ability to automatically monitor your success on all of those initiatives.
Excellent. And then when we’re talking about ground procedures , that’s a little bit more complicated than what goes on in the cockpit because there’s more moving parts, correct?
Absolutely. So, you have many different departments at an airline that need to move in the same direction in order to enact fuel savings. So, the primary objective there is to reduce the APU fuel burn and then the fuel burn associated with an aircraft that isn’t met on time at the gate.
Ah yes, the unmet aircraft. If anybody travels and you’re on the end of a six-hour flight and you stop short at the gate because the ground crew wasn’t ready or because something wasn’t there, that’s not only annoying [for the customer], that also costs [the airline] fuel, right?
Absolutely, and on time performance. So, if that’s a tight turn, then you’re already impacting the next flight.
Excellent. And a little bit about the weight on board, you touched on that. We’ve all heard the famous stories about removing one sandwich or a Coke can or something like that, but fuel has a much bigger impact, does it not?
It does , simply because airplanes burn a large amount of fuel. So, to carry fuel for various events that might be irregular for the flight, or the potential for irregular events to occur can add up to quite a bit, typically on a jet you’re looking at roughly 3.5% per hour. So, if you’re carrying 1000 pounds of fuel, you’re going to burn 35 pounds every hour, just for the privilege of carrying that.
So, the weight of the fuel costs you more to carry the fuel.
Absolutely. And we’re not advocating removing any additional fuel, it’s just providing airlines with the data to make objective decisions on when and how much fuel to carry.
So more about making sure you have the right [amount of] fuel on board .
Excellent. Now, with the way the world is , we talk about carbon taxes, we talk about fuel emissions — sorry , carbon emissions. Can you give me some idea of how you think the world is changing? And I know in Europe, they’re coming out with some very prescriptive rules around flight emissions and that kind of thing, so can you elaborate on any of that?
Yeah, absolutely. So , Europe already has the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) wherein airlines must pay for the emissions that are burned. ICAO was also looking at a similar program , it’s opt-in right now. The way these types of guidance materials usually go is that that it soon becomes a regulation prompted by political forces typically. Whereby, now , the emissions are going to cost airlines more.
Right. So, it doesn’t only make sense from a cost for fuel per se, it makes sense from the cost of carbon and the cost of doing business in some of these countries.
Excellent. Out of curiosity, would you be able to walk us through one specific initiative and the changes that could be made. If we could start with reduced flap landing, for example, what would that look like?
Yeah, so basically the idea behind a reduced flap landing initiative is to employ the lowest flap setting, the least drag flap setting required to land the aircraft safely. And so, what the airline has the ability to do is for any given aircraft type is to set the optimal flap setting, and then the penalty for not using the optimal flap setting can be calculated and then displayed as a success or a penalty.
Excellent. So, by providing that information real-time to airline clients, they’re able to make sure their pilots are following those procedures that are laid out in real-time.
Excellent. And then with the ground handling side of things, what are the different moving parts that we need to be concerned with?
Yeah, so ideally when an airplane arrives at the gate , the ground power is plugged in and optionally, dependent on conditions, the conditioned air is added as well to be able to allow the flight crew to shut down the APU. So, typically within a minute or two of arriving , the pilot has the ability then to discontinue that fuel burn. Then when the aircraft is ready to go, be that 20 minutes later or eight hours later, the pilot is then turning on the APU again to get ready for the departure. So, what we aim to do with this initiative is to show how much fuel is being burned and then to give them guidance on how they can maximize the time that the APU is not on during the turn.
We had a fascinating conversation [earlier] this afternoon while talking about APU and APU burn. It’s not only the expense of the fuel for APU, am I correct? There’s also a maintenance penalty for running the APU unnecessarily .
Absolutely. And that can run quite a tally actually. If you’re looking at a major airline with many thousands of flights a year , there’s a recurring cost to every time an APU is cycled , and then the maintenance and overhaul and replacement all costs time and costs money to replace and to keep the inventory for those parts.
Excellent. Thanks for spending some time with us today, Ryan, talking about FuelSense and the controllable fuel burn that airlines around the world face.
Yeah. Thanks for having me, Chris.
Excellent. We’ll be back with more great episodes of the JumpSeat coming up in the next couple of weeks. We have some excellent guest coming and we look forward to continuing the conversation. We’re going to see you again real soon, here at the JumpSeat.
Thanks for listening to the JumpSeat. Catch the next episode on your favorite streaming platform and follow us on LinkedIn at FLYHT.
2021 FLYHT Aerospace Solutions Ltd.