An investigation by the BBC has exposed an industry-wide cost-cutting practice called ‘fuel tankering’.
British Airways’ parent company, IAG, has launched a review into its practice of fuel tankering – in which planes are filled with extra fuel, usually to avoid paying higher fuel prices at destination airports – after a BBC investigation exposed the practice at the airline.
This practice saves money, sometimes minuscule amounts, but generates hundreds of kilograms of additional CO2 emissions.
In one example, documents seen by the BBC showed a recent BA flight to Italy took on board nearly three tonnes of extra fuel, amounting to a cost saving of just £40 ($75), and generated an additional 600kg of CO2 emissions. Savings can be even lower than this, the investigation found.
The revelation came after IAG in October vowed to commit to zero emissions by 2050.
A report from Eurocontrol, which coordinates air traffic control in Europe, predicts one in five European carriers fuel tanker, and estimates airlines save a total of €265 million ($426 million) a year through using the practice within Europe – but at the cost of an additional 901,000 tonnes of CO2.
Critics told the BBC that widespread use of the practice undermines the aviation industry’s claims it is committed to reducing its carbon emissions.
John Sauven, Greenpeace UK’s executive director, told the BBC that fuel tankering was a “classic example of a company putting profit before planet”.
In response to BA’s decision to carry out a review into the practice of fuel tankering, Sauven told the outlet it showed how the airline industry had been treating climate change “like a PR problem”.
“This is why we need government-enforced reduction targets to ensure airlines take responsibility for the damage their emissions are causing,” he said.
Virgin Australia has admitted it fuel tankers, but said it only performs it where an aircraft arrives at its destination with more fuel than required, and in rural Australia where it is either difficult to acquire fuel or much more expensive.
“This additional amount of fuel is used to minimise the fuel uplift for the next departure. We do not tanker fuel on one aircraft to transfer to another,” a spokesperson told Travel Weekly.
Virgin Australia is currently undergoing a sustainable aviation fuel trial through Brisbane Airport’s fuel supply system, which began in 2017. The airline also allows its passengers to carbon offset emissions generated during their flights, and is a supporter of the Tasmanian Land Conservancy (TLC), through its Fly Carbon Neutral Program.
“Virgin Australia guests offsetting their flights are directly supporting the New Leaf Project, which is preserving Tasmania’s native forests while also contributing to the protection of important species and ecosystems,”a Virgin Australia spokesperson told Travel Weekly.
“We were also part of the world’s first government certified carbon offset scheme in 2007.”
Qantas did not respond to Travel Weekly’s contact for comment by deadline, but announced on Monday that it plans to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.