Thursday, October 1, 2009

Planes keep falling out of the sky, coincidence?

No, airlines aren’t just charging you every fuckin’ fee they can image think up short of the pay-per-breath fee.  They’re also aggressively engaging in fuel hedging which could be contributing to rising oil prices.  But even more scary, they’re also cutting costs along the lines of fuel.  Sure that sounds ideal.  Use fuel more efficiently right?  Right.  But what happens when you decide to take risks by  not providing extra fuel to a plane?  What happens when you give a plane just the right amount of fuel to fly from point “A” to point “B”. 

For years, fuel represented 10% to 15% of most airlines' operating costs, but in the summer of 2008, as crude prices soared, its cost-share shot up to between 35% and 50%, according to the Air Transport Association, a trade group that represents most U.S. carriers.  Part of the problem is the more fuel being carried by a plane, the heavier it is thus the more fuel it’s burning hauling the load.  Planes typically (maybe not so typical anymore) fly with more than enough fuel for those instances where an emergency arises and they can’t immediately land.  Spare fuel beyond the minimum required by FAA is often added to airliners to allow for weather or airport delays. That adds weight, which burns more fuel and increases a plane's operating cost.

FAA regulations require airliners to take off with enough fuel to reach their destination or an alternate airport, plus another 45 minutes of flight. The regulations also say it's up to dispatchers and pilots to decide the size of fuel loads, with pilots making the final call.  Many Pilots are calling bullshit on that last sentence.  They’re complaining airline bosses, looking to cut as much cost as possible, are forcing them to fly dangerously low on fuel.

So I decided to put on my thinking cap.  Now is it me or do planes seem to be falling out of the sky frequently?  I mean come on, we have planes being landed in the Hudson, planes mysteriously disappearing, it seems every time I turn on the television there’s another plane accident.  But I don’t suspect that cutting fuel costs is the only corner being cut.  Any greedy corporation is going to find ways to keep their profits up while passing on any potential price increases to the consumer be that in the form of rate increases, or inadequate funding of safety and maintenance.  I suspect maintenance duties aren’t being performed on a regular basis either.  And if they are, how many of those defective parts are being swapped out when they should be?  Who’s to say they’re not putting Band-Aids on these maintenance issues to buy time or save money?  Lots of companies do risk assessments to determine if certain risks (in this case cutting fuel and possibly maintenance costs) are worth the savings. 

Thank about that next time you board a plane.

1 comment:

  1. I think you got that right, and actually talked to a friend who has 20 USAF years as a pilot, 10 UA years as an engineer, and 10 NTSB years as an investigator going for him.

    No, he still does not need to use a walker, but he does have bifocals. Hey, you get old.


    Not really scared about fuel loads, that seems to be within parameters, but scared about maintainance and airframe hours. Reducing costs leads to less maintainance and less maintance traing, and to fewer inspections.

    Whoops! My airplane came apart!

    As a USAF vet and mega-mile traveler, I have to say that I stopped flying commercial five years ago...and I won't go anywhere that I can't drive to.

    Love the blog! Refreshing!