Despite the ongoing pandemic, sustainability remains the biggest challenge for airlines in the long-run. With increasing pressure from governments, global organizations, and passengers, airlines elaborate on different measures to become more sustainable. This article adds another aspect to the discussion and clearly outlines how the digital fuel process adds to an airline’s sustainability.

Airline Fuel Process Sustainability

Sustainability — The Biggest Challenge On The Horizon

It may sound weird to call sustainability the biggest challenge for airlines. Especially at a time where many aircraft are grounded, and airlines fight to survive the next months. So don’t get me wrong, I have no intention to deemphasize the pandemic and COVID-19. On the contrary, I am well aware of airlines’ struggle at that time. However, I believe that the industry —on a global level— return to profits in 2-3 years. Although the industry might look different, we will definitely see profitable airlines again.

Sustainability, from my perspective, has a much more profound impact on a strategic level. With 915 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2019, the aviation industry plays a significant role in sustainability. In that context, IATA has committed to carbon-neutral airline growth starting next year and a 50% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050.

Airline Sustainability — The Action Items Are Endless

To achieve sustainability goals, airlines will have to implement hundreds and thousands of measures. Starting with more eco-friendly aircraft and engines but also process improvements and weight reductions. There’s definitely not one holy grail to go for, but it will be essential to optimize and improve on a corporate-wide level.

Spotlight On Airline Fuel Process

The fueling process is one of the areas that hold the potential to drive an airline’s sustainability. Why’s that? Simply, because at many airlines, the fueling process —still— is manual, paper-based, and ultimately inefficient. 

Understanding The Digital Fueling Process

A digital fueling process —first and foremost— aims to digitalize the fueling-related communication between airlines and into-plane agents. Accordingly, all messages, such as fuel orders, process milestones, receipts, fuel slips, etc. are exchanged electronically. By doing so, the airline can achieve various benefits from streamlined processes to reduced delays and cost savings. Here are some more resources about the benefits:

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    How A Digital Fuel Process Drives An Airline’s Sustainability

    Equipped with the necessary knowledge, we can now dig into the details and discuss the benefits a digital fueling process brings to the “sustainability table.”

    There are three main sustainability advantages an airline can realize with a digital fueling process:

    • Paperless process
    • Reduction of unnecessary fuel truck movements
    • Reduction of delays and contained emissions

    Let’s get through the aspects step-by-step!

    #1 Paperless Process

    We kick-off with the most evident and probably tangible contribution a digital fueling process adds to sustainability: Eliminating paper. And we are talking about a whole lot of paper. 

    On average, there are (at least in pre-COVID times) 100,000 daily commercial flights. Let’s assume a “fueling-rate” of 90% (considering 10% tankering flights). That sums up to ~33 mil. flights per year. Without a digital approach, every fueling process creates many papers (delivery slips, acknowledgments, invoices, copies, etc.).

    We take a conservative approach and assume ten pieces of paper for each flight. Accordingly, 330 mils. pieces of paper are “wasted” on an annual basis. That sums up to a paper pile reaching 33 kilometers into the sky! But more importantly, you need almost 20,000 trees to produce that enormous amount of paper!

    Therefore, a digital fuel process reduces paper waste — immediately, directly, and sustainably! 

    Fuel Airlines Sustainability

    #2 Reduction Of Unnecessary Fuel Truck Movements

    Without a digital fuel process, the fuel provider sends out a truck to each and every arriving airplane. This —most often— makes sense since refueling is needed. However, in the case of tankering flights, it is an unnecessary truck movement. Fuel truck arrives at the aircraft, the Captain informs the fueler that refueling is not required, and the fuel truck leaves. 

    With a digital fuel process, the cockpit crew can inform the fuel provider that refueling isn’t required before the truck movement starts. Eurocontrol reports that 15% of European flights perform fuel tankering. Unfortunately, there are no global numbers available.

    So let’s assume the numbers are slightly below European figures and go for 10%. That’s 10,000 flights a day, or 3.7 mils. annually. Let’s further assume two fuel truck movements each flight. That all sums up to almost 7.5 mil unnecessary movements — annually!

    airline fuel process sustainability

    #3 Reduction Of Delays As Driver For Fuel Efficiency And Airline Sustainability

    Delays —in most cases— have a negative impact on fuel consumption and, ultimately, CO2 emissions. Many research papers cover that topic from a holistic perspective. Based on airline analysis, a digital fuel approach has a significant and direct impact on fuel-related delays. Some airlines have been able to eliminate fuel-related delays entirely. 

    Although it is hard to calculate the potential CO2 reduction globally, we can definitely say that a digital fueling approach reduces delays and, subsequently, fuel and CO2 emissions!

    What’s Your Opinion On Airline Fuel And Sustainability?

    Always happy to get your feedback and questions! Just hit me up on Twitter or get in touch on LinkedIn.

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    Benjamin is an information-enthusiast, a content-maniac, and CEO of Information Design (in this order). His daily business revolves around pioneering solutions with the aim to change the way companies use information. His visions are based on expertise gained in more than 15 years in the industry, and working with renowned companies all over the globe.