The Relentless Pursuit of Weight Loss
The heavier the aircraft, the more fuel is consumed, and the higher the operating cost of the flight. Airlines apply substantial resources to reducing their flying mass in order to save money and reduce their carbon emissions (which, in some aviation jurisdictions, saves them more money).
Around the globe, from low-cost carriers, to full-service airlines, airline operations teams are always working to optimise flight paths and shed weight from the aircraft, in the pursuit of reduced fuel consumption and improved flight economics.
This desire is reflected in airframe and engine manufacturers also investing heavily in new materials and systems to reduce weight, improve aerodynamics, and optimise operating performance. For example, the major airframe manufacturers increasingly incorporate composite materials in fuselage and wing manufacturing.
But airlines themselves shave kilograms, and even grams, out of their aircraft wherever possible. Here are just a few real examples of the initiatives that some individual airlines have undertaken to achieve weight reduction, in some instances realising just fractions of a percent of fuel improvement.
- Thinner paper and fewer pages in in-flight magazines
- Lighter grade plastics in meal trays and food packaging
- Plastic "cutlery" instead of metal utensils
- Removing one baby changing table from each aircraft toilet
- Removing the stickers from overhead luggage bins
- Wine bottles made of plastic instead of glass
- Requesting passengers to use the bathroom before boarding the aircraft
- Installing scimitar winglets on wing-tips
- Modifying the shape of exterior light fittings for improved aerodynamics
- Washing fuselages and engines to remove dirt
- Improved aircraft paint products - lighter and more durable
- Replacing copper wiring with aluminium wiring
- Lighter materials in seat frames and cushions
- Replacing pilots' paper documentation with tablets
- Lighter (but stronger) netting in the cargo and baggage holds
- Lighter construction materials in bulk baggage containers
- Optimising the volume of clean toilet water on-board
Some of these measures may seem extreme, but it goes to show the extent to which airlines, manufacturers, and their suppliers, will go to reduce weight in the aircraft, wherever possible.