How airlines go to extreme lengths to make their planes lighter

How airlines from British Airways to United go to extreme lengths to make their planes lighter (just changing the paper stock of the in-flight mags can save $300k in fuel)

  • Airlines are making planes lighter to save on fuel and cut their carbon footprints
  • BA changed its catering carts and paper stock for in-flight magazines
  • Southwest pilots use iPads rather than paper charts and maps to save weight
  • Virgin Atlantic stock its food and drink differently to make its aircraft lighter 

Aviation is an expensive business for airlines, partly because of the staggering amounts of money they have to shell out on fuel – around £22,000 ($30,000) per flight, give or take a few thousand.

So it’s no surprise that carriers devote a lot of time and effort to the business of making their planes as light as possible – after all, the less weight there is, the less thirsty the engines are.

From changing the paper stock of the in-flight magazines to save $300,000 a year to ditching plates in first class passengers never really used, airlines go to extreme lengths to lighten their load, as we reveal here.

Different airlines are using different tactics to make planes lighter so they can save money on fuel. One of those is British Airways, pictured, which has a dedicated fuel efficiency team

Airlines over time have discovered that even the most subtle changes can lead to vast savings on fuel costs and a lower carbon footprint.

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British Airways, which has a dedicated fuel efficiency team, told MailOnline Travel that one weight-saving measure is to ditch paper manuals, charts and maps for pilots and instead give them iPads.

The airline says that by doing this, it saves more than 40kg on each of its 300,000 flights a year.

British Airways has reduced the weight of its catering equipment and now uses lighter trolleys on board 

Other ways BA has made its services lighter is by reducing the weight of its catering equipment, including using lighter trolleys and even printing its in-flight magazine on lighter paper.

US-based United Airlines has employed similar tactics.

It says that by changing the paper on its in-flight magazine by one ounce per copy it has saved nearly $300,000 a year, according to CBS.

What’s more, its cargo containers are also 80 pounds lighter, saving two million gallons of fuel a year, while scrapping on board duty free sales has saved 1.4million gallons of fuel a year – a combined saving of $7million.

At fellow US-based carrier Southwest Airlines, 576,000 gallons of fuel have been saved each year by switching paper charts and manuals to electronic tablets, just as BA have done.

This equates to a saving of around one million dollars annually.

In addition, Southwest told MailOnline Travel it has changed the way it restocks its galley, saving 148,000 gallons of fuel. 

Virgin Atlantic discovered that huge savings could be made by offering passengers less alcohol.

Southwest Airlines saved 576,000 gallons of fuel each year by switching paper charts and manuals to electronic tablets

It told MailOnline Travel that it now saves almost £100,000 per year by reducing the amount of items in its bar on inbound night flights.

The airline found that bars were not used as much on these services as most passengers just want to sleep, so it stocks fewer bottles.

Another way Virgin has made flights lighter is to convert the upper class sundries cart from a full-size to half a size.

This came following a review of what upper class passengers were taking from the cart and ditching the items that were being left behind. This simple change saved the airline over £17,000 per year in fuel. 

The airline even removed slate-like black dining plates from its upper class cabin after noticing they weren’t being used, making a modest saving of £5,822 per year in fuel. 

Virgin Atlantic told MailOnline Travel that it now saves almost £100,000 per year in fuel by having a smaller stock of bottles in the bar on night flights

Having slimline seats are another way that airlines can save on fuel and Norwegian has rolled out brand new ones on its Boeing 737 Max aircraft.

The fleet of 12 planes will fly between the UK and Ireland and New York and Providence and feature the Recaro 3710C seat.

Each seat weighs around 10kg – 1kg less than the older model, which reduces the weight of the aircraft by more than 200kg overall.

Norwegian say this reduces its operating costs, which they claim allows it ‘to continue delivering affordable fares and an environmentally friendly service’.

Buying brand new planes altogether helps, too. 

According to British Airways, in the next five years, it will take delivery of 72 new aircraft, which are all lighter and more efficient.

New models include the Airbus A350 and Boeing 787-10 for long-haul flights and the Airbus A320 and A321neo for short-haul.

The British flag carrier also added that in the future it hopes to start powering its aircraft with jet fuel made from household waste thanks to a partnership to develop renewable fuel plants.

Middle East-based Qatar Airways says it too is investing in the Airbus A350-100, which is one of the lightest new generation aircraft to take to the skies.

It is made from composites including titanium and advanced aluminum alloys.

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