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Socially Responsible Chinese Airlines

By Winslow “Bud” Johnson

Socially Responsible Chinese Airlines
Not only is China now the 21st century’s second largest economy, it is also one of the fastest growing segments of the global airline industry. Every year more and more Chinese people travel by air rather than by train or other modes of transportation. The impressive growth of the Chinese airline industry has been one of the key factors in propelling China into a global position of leadership. Easy access to markets throughout China has enabled China’s economy to grow faster than would have been possible without a modern airline network.

Because of their importance in the Chinese economy Chinese airlines believe that it is their social responsibility to control fuel consumption. Naturally it takes a tremendous amount of jet fuel to keep China’s airlines moving. The airlines in China as well as airlines all over the world report that fuel consumption is one of their largest expenses compared to other airline operating costs. Because of this all of these airlines believe that controlling fuel consumption is extremely important.

Operations Center in Shanghai that is available 24/7 to help airlines with fuel conservation.

Chinese airlines are also concerned about the carbon emissions in China. Because of this, controlling the amount of carbon emissions is considered to be an important priority for Chinese airlines. Carbon emissions go hand in hand with fuel usage and a bi-product of saving fuel is a reduction in carbon emissions. With the help of engine and aircraft manufacturers the airlines in China are taking a number of steps to conserve fuel and at the same time control carbon emissions.

Chinese airlines are not alone in their interest in fuel conservation. Foreign airlines such as GOL in Brazil, easyJet in England and American Airlines in the United States all report that controlling fuel consumption is a top priority. Mary Sanderson, Communications Manager with American Airlines provided information showing that a US one-cent (approximately 6.8 fen) increase in the price of a US gallon of fuel translates into an additional US $25 million (approximately RMB 169 million) annual cost for American Airlines.

Dubai’s Emirates Airline is also highly concerned about efficient fuel use. Paul Zissermann, Environment Manager with Emirates says that many industry insiders and the general public assume incorrectly that the Dubai government provides the airline with cheap jet fuel. “Nothing could be further from the truth” says Zissermann. “Emirates pays the same price as its competitors for jet fuel in Dubai, which is often higher than other regions, due to limited refining capacity. Jet fuel is one of our largest expenses so of course the most efficient use of it is in our best interest – financially and environmentally.”

Improving Energy Efficiency
Retiring old non fuel-efficient aircraft is one of the major things the airlines in China and in other areas are doing to reduce fuel consumption. Grace Chen, Communications Officer with China Southern Airlines provided information showing that China Southern has decommissioned 23 older aircraft and is replacing them with 35 new Boeing Next-Generation 737 and A320 aircraft which are more efficient. Shanghai Airline reports that they are now in the process of purchasing Boeing 737 new generation aircraft because they are more efficient. Newer aircraft can by much more fuel efficient that older aircraft. Some of the more fuel-efficient aircraft sold today can get mileage comparable to that of most small cars when calculated on a per passenger per kilometer basis.

china airline research, china southern airline
China Southern is replacing 23 older aircraft with 35 new Boeing Next-Generation 737 and A320 aircraft which are more fuel-efficient

The next time you are traveling by airline look out your window at the end of the wing. You may notice that the tip of the wing looks like an upturned flap rather than just a straight wing. That curve at the end of the wing is called a “winglet” and represents one of the major things the airlines are doing to conserve fuel. Samantha Solomon from Boeing’s Flight Services Communications reports that a Next-Generation 737 airplane with winglets can save up to 4% of the amount of jet fuel burned by an aircraft. Four percent can represent a lot of money. John Gough, the Initiatives Leader at GE Aviation indicates that a medium sized airline with a US billion dollar fuel bill can save US $30 million (approximately RMB 203 million) with just a 3% decrease in fuel burn.

The curve at the end of this wing is called a "winglet" and is used on this Shanghai Airline aircraft to conserve fuel.

There are a number of other interesting things the airlines are doing to conserve fuel. Wuan Zhang, Communications Manager at Spring Airline feels that if two engines are not necessary they will use only one engine where this is possible. For example they may only use one engine when taxiing jets for maintenance to conserve fuel. Shanghai Airline says they are planning reduced reliance on auxiliary power units (APU’s). An APU is the small engine on the aircraft that generates electricity by burning jet fuel. They are undertaking to have the ground power units power the aircraft rather than the APU because of the lower cost of the ground-based units, which burn about 10 times less fuel than APU’s,

Many airlines in China and in other regions around the world believe that one of the most important ways to save fuel is through efficient routing. Grace Chen with China Southern Airlines provided information on how China Southern is taking steps to reduce fuel by obtaining more direct routing. China Southern believes that if you can fly direct routes with pinpoint accuracy you can reduce diversions and save fuel. Fuel can also be saved through constant descents rather than step down descents. Wuan Zhang indicated that Spring Airline encourages their pilots to use continuous descents on approach wherever possible.

Many airlines believe that fuel can be saved by reducing the weight of the aircraft. Mary Sanderson of American Airlines provided a report showing that every US pound removed from an aircraft can help save as much as 11,000 US gallons of fuel annually fleet-wide at American. If, for example, 100 US pounds of unnecessary weight was removed across their fleet, it would save more than one million US gallons of fuel each year. Removing unnecessary items from cabins such as old phone equipment, logo lights, galley tables, magazine racks and razor outlets, can all save fuel.

A significant weight reduction was felt by some to be the use of lighter-weight catering carts. Marianne Lindsey, manager of communications with Alaska Airlines provided information showing that since retrofitting all of its aircraft with lighter-weight carts Alaska Airlines feels it has saved nearly 300,000 US gallons of fuel annually. Another way some of these airlines have been reducing weight is to reduce the amount of potable water onboard. Wuan Zhang at Spring Airline says they are also reducing the weight of the airplane by reducing potable water. Alaska Airlines has begun removing bilge insulation blankets located in the aft cargo pits of its 737-400s.

Spring Airline often uses only one engine when taxiing jets for maintenance to conserve fuel.

Several airlines in China and in other parts of the world indicated that washing their aircraft and their aircraft engines saves fuel. Wuan Zhang indicated that Spring Airline washes the airplanes every few weeks for this reason. Peter Aylott, Powerplant Manager with Thompson Airways reports that their airline combines their engine water wash program with EcoPower from Pratt & Whitney. He feels that the Pratt & Whitney system is one of the most efficient water wash systems available. It comes with an environmentally friendly rig where they collect all of the effluent and dispose of it in an environmentally responsible manner. American Airlines also uses the EcoPower engine washes and Mary Sanderson’s data indicates that they can save 7 million gallons of fuel each year from engine washes.

Alternative Fuels
The use of alternative jet fuels is something many of the airlines in China and around the world are watching very closely. Alaska Airlines indicated that alternative fuel is on their “wish list” as a future way to reduce expenditures on fuel. Peter Aylott with Thomson Airways indicated that there has been a lot of talk in Europe about bio-fuels. American Airlines feels that bio-fuels are not there yet but it too is on their wish list. In fact, American Airlines signed agreements in partnership with 15 other airlines to purchase future supplies of alternative fuels. China Southern believes that throughout the life cycle of bio-fuels it is possible to achieve a carbon footprint reduction of up to 80%.
There have been a number of successful test flights conducted by different airlines that so far have proven that the use of bio-fuels are stable and safe. For example, Shehan Fernando, Propulsion Manager with Virgin Atlantic reports that they recently did an exercise on bio fuels with positive results. Thomas Woodward, Corporate Communications with Qantas Airways indicates that the Qantas Group is also closely involved in industry efforts to develop cleaner jet fuels on a commercially viable scale.
Emirates’ Paul Zissermann believes that the industry is still some 8-10 years away from algal bio-fuels being commercially available. “In terms of sustainability and production per unit area, we certainly believe that algal bio-fuel will be the jet fuel of the future” says Zissermann. “When it’s been proven to be technically, sustainably and commercially feasible- we’ll be first in line to buy it. Until then, we watch and wait.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Environmental protection is a major issue that effects the sustainable development of society as a whole. The airlines in China and throughout the world are paying serious attention to energy conservation and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. China Southern and other Chinese airlines are actively publicizing how they have implemented the energy-saving emission reduction policies of the Chinese government. They are taking definite measures to improve the efficiency of their energy utilization and the resulting reduction in carbon emissions. They are doing this through initiatives to keep applying new technologies to improve the efficiency of their aircraft fleets and to reduce resource consumption.

(Tuesday, August 31, 2010)


About the Author of this Article

Winslow “Bud” Johnson has an extensive background in aviation. He is the President of the Stamford Marketing Group, Inc., a consulting firm that conducts market research in the airline, electronics and other industries. ( . He is the past president of China Aviation Partners, LLC, an organization involved in developing airport facilities in China. He is also an Airline Transport Pilot, a Certified Instrument Flight Instructor and a Director of the MAPA Safety Foundation, an international flight training organization. In addition to English he speaks Spanish and Chinese having traveled extensively throughout Spain, Latin America and China for many years for both business and pleasure.

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