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747, A380 operators rank low on transpacific fuel efficiency

Operating four-engined jets such as the Boeing 747 and Airbus A380 has placed Qantas, Korean Air and Asiana Airlines at the bottom of a recent ranking of airline fuel efficiency on transpacific flights.

The International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) states in a recent white paper that Hainan Airlines and All Nippon Airways are the most fuel-efficient carriers on transpacific routes at 36 passenger kilometres per litre of fuel used, based on data collected in 2016 and modelling conducted by the agency.

However, it notes that both carriers had different approaches to achieving that level of efficiency.

“Hainan’s efficiency rating mostly reflected its very advanced fleet, as 81% of its available seat kilometers were aboard Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft. ANA, in contrast, operated aircraft with higher fuel burn but carried more payload, especially cargo,” it says.

The study found that the largest driver of efficiency is the amount of freight carried as a share of total aircraft payload, which accounted for almost half of the variation among the 20 carriers in the survey. That was followed by seating density (24%), aircraft fuel burn (16%) and passenger load factor (12%).

By comparison, Qantas came out at the bottom of the ratings, achieving only 22 passenger kilometres per litre of fuel burned.

“Qantas recorded poor fuel efficiency because it operated the most fuel-intensive aircraft at very low load factors for both passengers and freight.”

Overall, the industry average is 31 passenger kilometres per litre. China Southern Airlines, China Eastern Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Philippine Airlines and Singapore Airlines were all slightly below the average, at 20 passenger kilometres per litre.

Co-author of the report Dan Rutherford, ICCT’s aviation program director, says that the study found that fuel burn per passenger rises with aircraft size and weight, penalising operators of 747s and A380s.

“Newer twin-engine widebodies provide the payload and range capabilities needed for transpacific flights with much lower fuel burn,” he adds.

Qantas is in the process of replacing its 747s with 787-9s, with the twin-engined jets recently replacing 747s on the Melbourne-Los Angeles route. Similarly, Asiana has been deploying new A350-900s on its Seoul-San Francisco services, while Korean Air is also taking delivery of 787-9s.

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