Finnair: fuel efficiencies through weight watching

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Political and social unrest in oil producing nations serves to focus the mind on airline fuel savings. Sure, next generation airframe and powerplant technology delivers the largest proportion of fuel efficiency but all avenues need to be explored in these environmentally responsible days – including the accurate estimation of fuel weights through airline IT systems. Kati Ihamäki, Vice President Sustainable Development, explains how Amadeus’ Altéa DCS FM system has improved Finnair’s environmental credentials

Finnair has a very clear four pillar strategy to achieve its sustainable development goals. Simply put, this comprises keeping the age of its fleet low, making the best use of airport infrastructure, optimising flight and ground operations and advocating a common sector approach to the use of economic environmental instruments.

Against this backdrop, Finnair has been somewhat of a trailblazer in terms of pioneering Amadeus Altéa departure control flight-management technology. Migration took place as early as February to March 2008. A total of 50 load controllers were trained, nine different aircraft types were configured and about 92,000 flights per annum are now being managed by Altéa. So what has been the contribution of Altéa to Finnair’s need to be green?

Amongst many other benefits – such as higher productivity and less complexity – there have been fuel savings. It all began with a study conducted by Finnair and Amadeus on improvements in the estimation of zero fuel weight (ZFW) of the aircraft. In essence, based on both historical data and other parameters, Altéa DCS (flight management module) is able to estimate the ZFW of the aircraft.

This estimated ZFW is used by Finnair’s pilots to order the appropriate volume of fuel. Once the actual ZFW is received, the fuel uplift can then be confirmed or corrected prior to departure. It is vital, for operational reasons, that the estimated ZFW and the actual ZFW of the aircraft are close in number. Large differences between the estimated and actual figures cause flight delays while additional fuel is ordered; they can also cause unnecessary fuel uplift and burn where too much fuel has been taken on board.

Finnair has additionally undertaken an environmental performance study which compares the estimated ZFW of Finnair aircraft. The result, says Ihamäki, has been that the number of ZFW error records has been reduced by a massive 48.5%. It is important to understand that an error record exists where the gap between an estimated and an actual ZFW is so large that a modification in the fuel uplift is required causing delays, costs and inconvenience. In fact, Altéa has reduced the proportion of error records from 3.59% to 1.85% of all cases.

The upshot of all this is that Finnair has reduced unnecessary fuel burn by 33.7% and for Helsinki departures the reduction is 49%. This all assists Finnair in achieving its fuel reduction target of 41% between 1999 and 2017 in terms of passenger kilometres.

Further optimisation, says Ihamäki, is still on the cards. Enhancements to the Altéa DCS FM are foreseen in 2012 and 2013 which should deliver an advanced weight watchers scheme and an even greener airline.

All this is important because, although we all know that aviation only contributes 2% to global CO2 emissions, it is a rapidly growing industry – at around 5% per annum – and therefore the imperative to be environmentally responsible through hardware, software, infrastructure or any other means is vital.

And let’s face it, the inclusion of aviation in the EU Emission Trading Scheme is staring us in the face. The estimated 2012 costs of this move for the aviation sector is €1.4 billion, points out Ihamäki, and let’s not forget that oil prices are both largely upward moving and volatile.

She concludes that reducing fuel consumption to the minimum is desirable for environment, reputational and economic reasons. Uncertainty regarding fuel prices and emission permits is the next huge challenge for aviation as it gets all its environmental, financial and operational ducks in a row.