Qantas cuts fuel to save money
PILOTS flying Qantas's flagship Airbus A380 super jumbos are being pressured to carry less fuel on long-haul flights in a cost-cutting measure to reduce the airline's soaring fuel bills.
Company insiders have exposed a secret campaign, which increases the risk for flights being diverted to alternative airports because they cannot safely reach their destinations.
The campaign includes charts ranking pilots against each other based on fuel usage.
The revelations followed the forced diversion of two flights in just four days, with a Melbourne-bound A380 redirected to Adelaide on Tuesday after crew discovered it had burnt though too much fuel, and a flight from London forced to land in Kuala Lumpur because it had inadequate spare fuel to circle while a storm cleared.
The airline yesterday denied the diversions were solely the result of aircraft not carrying enough fuel.
But documents obtained by The Advertiser reveal in the past two years the amount of "discretionary fuel" - carried on board flights to deal with emergencies, unforeseen bad weather and airport delays - has dropped by about 40 per cent.
While the average A380 flight took off with 2502kg of discretionary fuel in 2009, landing with 1818kg unused, by late last year they were carrying 1472kg and landing with 1088kg onboard.The documents also show flights landing at Singapore and Melbourne - the two destinations to suffer diversions this week - on average landed with the least amount of remaining fuel of any Qantas A380 flights.
A pilot yesterday said the document, which ranks pilots based on fuel usage, was putting "subtle pressure" on crews.
"The airline is trying to save money, knowing that a lot of our pilots will see it as a challenge and compete with each other," he said.
"When the fleet was new they were more conservative, we carried more fuel, but as the fleet has settled in they have changed the policies to lower the fuel amounts."
He said the reductions in discretionary fuel - which save the airline about $3000 on each flight - would lead to more delays and forced landings because of weather or other unforeseen problems.
"We will see more of these diversions," the pilot said.
UNSW School of Aviation lecturer Peter Marosszeky, who has almost 50 years in the sector, said while the fuel policy had no impact on safety, it increased the chance of inconvenience.
"You're going to expose yourself to a greater chance of having a diversion if the weather turns sour en route," he said.
"Discretionary fuel has always been an issue, but it has always been tempered by the fact the captain has the final decision.
"There are some serious issues involved if you start pressuring a pilot to fly his plane in a different way."
A spokesman confirmed Qantas was looking at ways to cut fuel costs, but denied it had any impact on services. "Pilots are encouraged to closely monitor discretionary fuel uplift," he said.
The Australian and International Pilots Association said pilots always carried more than the minimum amount of fuel set by the airline but carriers were "willing to wear a certain number of diversions".
"That is an operational risk the airline takes," vice-president Captain Richard Woodward said.
"The performance of the airplane is directly related to its weight, and the only thing that changes in flight is the fuel."http://www.adelaidenow.com.au