Belly freight is the most influential driver of airline fuel efficiency in the US-Latin America market, finds ICCT

Belly freight is the most influential driver of airline fuel efficiency in the US-Latin America market, finds ICCT | ICCT

Thu 21 Nov 2019 – A new study from ICCT finds Azul, Frontier and Volaris operated the most fuel-efficient direct flights between the United States and Latin America in 2018. Brazilian airline Azul, closely followed by LATAM, performed best on routes between the US and South America (SA), with Frontier and Mexican carrier Volaris tied as the most fuel-efficient airlines on non-stop flights in 2018 between the US and Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean (MCC). On South American routes, the least fuel-efficient carrier, Ecuador’s TAME, burned 52% more fuel per passenger kilometre than Azul. ICCT found the belly freight share of total mass carried was the most influential driver of airline fuel efficiency in the fast-growing US-Latin America market, explaining nearly half of the quantifiable variance between the best and worst performers. At 42% of all flights, this is the largest international market for the US.


ICCT measured Azul’s average fuel efficiency during 2018 as 44 passenger-kilometres per litre of fuel (pax-km/L) on US-South American routes, 19% better than the average of 10 carriers surveyed, with LATAM at 43 pax-km/L. Low-cost Azul, which operates between Florida and Brazil, had the highest passenger load factor (89%) and largest freight share of total tonne-km (35%) of the 10 carriers. The fuel efficiency of Azul’s fleet is likely to increase in the near future with more Airbus A320neo and A330neo on order, predicts ICCT.


Low-cost Frontier Airlines was the most fuel-efficient carrier in US domestic operations in 2017 and 2018. Dense seating configurations on routes between 10 US airports and five destinations in Mexico and the Caribbean in 2018 significantly contributed to its high fuel efficiency of 37 pax-km/L. If Frontier were to deploy more of the Airbus A320neo aircraft it operates, and has ordered, on US-MCC routes, its fuel efficiency could improve still further, suggests ICCT.


Volaris deployed aircraft with exceptionally low fuel burn, such as Airbus A320neo and A321neo aircraft, on non-stop services between 31 US airports and 20 Mexican destinations. The switch from A320 to A320neo aircraft in 2018 increased the fuel efficiency of the carrier by 3 pax-km/L, the largest improvement from 2017 among ranked carriers in the two markets.


Overall, the average fuel efficiency of the US-MCC market improved by 0.5 pax-km/L from 2017 to 2018, mainly as a result in investment by carriers in newer, narrowbody aircraft. The average fuel efficiency of the US-SA market was 3 pax-km/L higher than that of the transatlantic market and 6 pax-km/L higher than that of the transpacific market, mainly as a result of denser seating configurations and a more fuel-efficient fleet.


Across the US-Latin America market as a whole, the most important drivers of fuel efficiency were freight share (49%), aircraft fuel burn (19%), seating density (17%) and passenger load factor (15%). Freight share of total payload, followed by aircraft fuel burn and seating density accounted for more than 80% of the variation in airline fuel efficiency in 2018, found ICCT.


One major difference between the US-MCC and US-SA markets concerns the amount of belly freight carried. Carriers in the former carry almost no belly freight but for carriers in the latter market, on average 22% of the payload is freight. The variation in operational parameters among carriers helps explain the size of the fuel-efficiency gaps observed within the US-MCC and US-SA markets, says ICCT. The smaller gap of 32% in the US-MCC market can be attributed to almost no variation in belly freight among ranked US-MCC carriers and modest variation in seating density, compared to the US-SA market.


“This study shows that operational strategies such as carrying more belly freight can really boost an airline’s fuel efficiency,” commented Sola Zheng, the paper’s lead author.


The introduction of more fuel-efficient widebody aircraft, such as the Airbus A350 and Boeing 787, can help further improve the efficiency of the US-Latin America market, advises ICCT, and as the demand for air travel in the market increases, more new aircraft will be purchased. All other things being equal, airlines operating aircraft with lower fuel burn tend to be more fuel efficient, but operational parameters such as belly freight are also important and should be tracked, it concludes.


The study is the first analysis of this market and ICCT is calling for cooperation from ranked airlines so its methodology can be shifted from a modelling approach to one which primary fuel burn data from all carriers can be analysed to encompass the full range of operational measures that affect airline fuel efficiency.


“Consumers still don’t know that which airline you fly makes a big difference in terms of carbon emissions,” said Dan Rutherford, ICCT’s Aviation Program Director and co-author of the study. “Airlines should disclose more emissions data to help travellers reduce their environmental footprints.”





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