American Airlines' Flight Operations and Efficiency
Originally published in American Airlines 2021 ESG Report
At the same time as we are adding new, more fuel-efficient aircraft to our fleet, we continually look for ways to operate our existing fleet as efficiently as possible. Doing so enables us to both save on jet fuel costs and reduce GHG emissions. American has set a target to achieve a 50 million-gallon absolute reduction in jet fuel use by 2025, using 2019 aircraft as a baseline. That is, aircraft in our fleet as of January 2019 that continue to fly through 2025 will use 50 million gallons less fuel as a result of fuel-efficiency initiatives.
We have implemented a host of fuel-savings initiatives, both on the ground and in the air, focused on three key areas:
- Operating more efficiently on the ground. We have implemented a number of operational changes to reduce on-the-ground fuel use. For example, in 2021, American developed a new application to optimize how we assign gates to aircraft at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport (DFW). This new approach to gating optimizes for taxi time, maximizes on-time arrivals, reduces ramp congestion, minimizes gate conflicts, saves fuel and reduces GHG emissions. Leveraging real-time Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) flight data and routing information, we are using the new tool for all our DFW flights today; we also expect to expand its use to other airports. Based on the reduced taxi time resulting from use of the tool today, we project full-year fuel savings of 870,000 gallons at DFW alone, equal to more than 2,600 metric tons of CO2 .
American has also reduced the use of onboard auxiliary power units during flight preparation by connecting to less carbon-intensive electric ground power at the airport terminal. We have also increased our use of single-engine taxi operation (i.e., using just one aircraft engine to taxi to the gate after landing), which reduces the carbon emissions produced by taxiing by 20%–40%. In addition, we have implemented new procedures for staggering flight departures and arrivals, which results in less time for aircraft on the ramp and, therefore, less fuel use.
- Reducing excess weight. The weight on an aircraft is a critical driver of how much fuel it uses, and even small reductions in weight can add up to significant fuel and GHG emissions savings when multiplied across our whole fleet and the many flights each aircraft makes.
We have taken a number of steps to reduce weight on our aircraft, including installing lighter seats, removing seat-back entertainment systems, discontinuing American Way magazine, and stocking our galleys with only as much ice as we expect passengers will use on each flight. Even using lighter paint makes a difference: On our A321 fleet alone, this saves about 1 million gallons of fuel per year. Collectively, our weight-reduction efforts save 12.4 million gallons of fuel annually, which equals 117,800 million metric tons of CO2 emissions avoided each year.
- Optimizing flight plans and procedures. We focus on flying as efficiently as possible, which includes consid ering everything from the speed and paths our aircraft take on departure and descent to how flight crews adjust en route to account for changing weather conditions.
Since we began deploying specialized software in 2020 that uses real-time weather conditions to provide our flight crews with better data about optimal flight altitudes and speeds, we have saved more than 8.4 million gallons of fuel. That translates to just over 80,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions avoided. This and other flight planning improvements also help us optimize the amount of arrival fuel on the aircraft — that is, the extra fuel carried on the aircraft — which makes a big difference in reducing weight and, therefore, improving fuel efficiency.
Increasing Efficiency by Modernizing Our Air Traffic Control System
Improving the country’s network of aviation infrastructure, technology and services will increase operational efficiency and reduce jet fuel use. In turn, that will avoid millions of metric tons of CO2 emissions annually and help reduce aviation’s carbon footprint. Improvements in our Air Traffic Control (ATC) system will produce enormous environmental and economic benefits, and American supports efforts to modernize our ATC system. We encourage policymakers to advance policies that achieve that objective, and we are committed to working with the FAA and other policymakers to make it a reality.
In 2021, the FAA implemented more efficient descent procedures that will make a meaningful impact in reducing fuel use and associated CO2 emissions. American supported designing the new procedures by providing technical data and expertise on aircraft behavior and systems, energy management considerations and application. The new Optimized Profile Descents allow planes to glide down safely from cruising altitudes into airspace around some of the nation’s largest airports, instead of the traditional stair-step procedure that consumes more fuel. For each group of descents used at an airport, the FAA estimates that an average of 2 million gallons of fuel is saved, and 18,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions are reduced annually.*
American has also partnered with the FAA and NASA on a trial program in Charlotte, North Carolina, to test and validate the benefits of Terminal Flight Data Manager infrastructure. During testing at Charlotte Douglas International Airport, the program reduced taxi times, helping to save more than 275,000 gallons of fuel annually. The program also avoided almost eight tons of CO2 emissions daily and cut delays by 916 hours over four years, equivalent to an average of 15 minutes of wait time on a taxiway for more than 3,600 departing flights.** In 2021, NASA transferred findings from the trial program to the FAA for nationwide implementation.