Winglets Save Airlines Money
An Interview with Joe Clark and Jason Paur
on PNR 11/22/06 by Jason Paur
As just about anybody heading to an airport can tell you, today (Wednesday) is traditionally the busiest air travel day of the year. As airlines continue to climb out of the financial doldrums of the past five years, a small Seattle company is helping the industry save million of gallons of fuel every year. Jason Paur reports.
OVER THE DECADES, RISING GAS PRICES ARE USUALLY FOLLOWED BY AN INCREASE IN GAS SAVING GIZMOS MARKETED TO PEOPLE WHO WANT TO SAVE AT THE PUMP. WITH FUEL AS THEIR NUMBER ONE EXPENSE, THE AIRLINES ARE NO DIFFERENT. THEY’VE TRIED EVERYTHING FROM USING LESS PAINT TO LIGHTWEIGHT INTERIORS ALL IN AN EFFORT TO SAVE GAS. AND THE RISING COST OF OIL IN RECENT YEARS HAS ONLY FURTHER HURT THE STRUGGLING AIRLINES. BUT THE OPERATORS OF THE THIRSTY JETS HAVE FOUND A SIMPLE CURVE IN THE WING CAN SAVE THEM MILLIONS.
IF YOU’VE BEEN TO SEATAC AIRPORT RECENTLY YOU’VE LIKELY NOTICED THE CURVED WINGTIPS ON MOST OF THE 737S USED BY ALASKA AND SOUTHWEST AIRLINES. THEY’RE CALLED ‘BLENDED WINGLETS.’ ALASKA AIRLINE’S FLIGHT OPERATIONS MANAGER SCOTT RIDGE SAYS ADDING THEM TO AN EXISTING AIRPLANE GIVES THE COMPANY IMMEDIATE RESULTS.
RIDGE: "On our flights it saves approximately 3% of the gas bill. So on a typical transcon flight if we’re flying to Miami or Newark or DC on Alaska’s non stop service to those places, it saves about 150 gallons of gas every flight."
NOW THAT MIGHT NOT SOUND LIKE MUCH, BUT OVER THE COURSE OF A YEAR THE SAVINGS CAN ADD UP TO MORE THAN 100,000 GALLONS FOR A SINGLE AIRPLANE.
CLARK: "We’ve saved about 350 million gallons of fuel in the past 6, 7 years to the industry. This year alone we’ll save 150 million gallons of fuel."
JOE CLARK IS THE PRESIDENT OF AVIATION PARTNERS, A SMALL 40-PERSON COMPANY ON BOEING FIELD. AVIATION PARTNERS DEVELOPED THE BLENDED WINGLET IN THE EARLY 90S AND TEAMED UP WITH BOEING JUST A FEW YEARS LATER TO PUT THE WINGTIPS ON THE 737. THEY MAKE THE WING MORE EFFICIENT BY REDUCING THE DRAG NEAR THE WING TIP. THIS MEANS THE AIRPLANE CAN BURN LESS FUEL AS WELL AS CLIMB FASTER, REDUCING THE NOISE TO THOSE ON THE GROUND. CLARK SAYS THE MAIN MOTIVATION FOR THE AIRLINES MIGHT BE THE COST SAVINGS, BUT THE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT IS SOMETHING HE ALSO TOUTS.
CLARK: "The amount of fuel we’re saving is the amount of fuel all the cars in Seattle are burning in one year. And we’re saving that every year, and that’s increasing at an increasing rate."
CLARK SAYS HUNDREDS OF BLENDED WINGLETS HAVE BEEN ADDED TO AIRLINERS AROUND THE WORLD. IN FACT TWO AIRLINES IN GERMANY WERE THE FIRST CUSTOMERS AFTER GETTING ENCOURAGEMENT FROM THE ENVIRONMENTAL GREEN PARTY. THEY SAW THE BENEFITS OF FUEL SAVINGS AND THE REDUCED NOISE POLLUTION. ONE OF THE LATEST CUSTOMERS IS THE U.S. AIR FORCE. IT PUT WINGLETS FROM AVIATION PARTNERS ON THE 757 USED BY VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY. CLARK HOPES THAT WITHIN 10 YEARS THE WINGLETS WILL SAVE MORE THAN 2 BILLION GALLONS OF FUEL WORLD WIDE.
IT WILL HOWEVER TAKE AN INVESTMENT ON THE PART OF THE AIRLINES. THE WINGLETS AREN’T CHEAP. A SET COSTS MORE THAN $600,000 FOR A SINGLE PLANE. BUT ACCORDING TO AIRLINE ANALYST SCOTT HAMILTON, WITH HIGHER OIL PRICES THE INVESTMENT PAYS FOR ITSELF IN JUST A FEW YEARS. HAMILTON SAYS THE WINGLET IDEA IS HERE TO STAY BECAUSE THEY PROVIDE TANGIBLE RESULTS FOR AIRLINES LOOKING FOR FINANCIAL STABILITY.
HAMILTON: "So the airline executives now know that in this tumultuous, global environment that they cannot simply count on oil falling in price and staying there. I think they have to be prepared and I think they will be prepared to make the investment because it’s the smart thing to do."
NEW JETS SUCH AS BOEING’S 787 HAVE BEEN DESIGNED FROM THE BEGINNING NOT TO NEED THE WINGLET RETROFIT. BUT AS LONG AS AIRLINES STILL FLY THE EXISTING MODELS, AVIATION PARTNERS CONTINUES ITS DEVELOPMENT OF THE WINGLET DESIGN. IT’S CURRENTLY WORKING ON WAYS TO CONVERT THE WINGTIPS OF 747's AS WELL AS OTHER BOEING AND AIRBUS MODELS IN THE COMING YEARS. JASON PAUR, KUOW NEWS