Honeywell claims its data tool can help airlines reduce unnecessary fuel waste 

Key Points
  • Better data on flight routes should mean less fuel being loaded on to commercial passenger planes.
  • Honeywell has developed a data analytics tool to help airlines calculate more exact fuel requirements.
  • The U.S. firm said it can also help pilots ask permission to take shortcuts on routes.
Chris Rank | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Better flight data should mean less fuel is needed for commercial passenger planes, according to the U.S. firm, Honeywell.

Those involved in flight planning and dispatching a plane decide how much fuel is needed for an aircraft's trip, but before take-off the pilot has the option to load between 5 to 10 percent of contingency.

Honeywell has said that amount usually involves little formal calculation and could result in unnecessary amounts of fuel being burned at an additional financial and environmental cost.

"It is important to note that it takes 3-4 kilos of fuel, for each flight hour, to carry 100 kilos. So, when aircraft are flying with excess weight of fuel they have a carriage penalty that they are paying," said Honeywell Aerospace Senior Product Marketing manager, Julie Vasquez, in a telephone interview with CNBC last week.

Honeywell has built a data analytics tool for airlines and pilots to help better calculate the amount of fuel a plane needs to carry. It has claimed that the "cleaned up" data from historical flights can help pilots better consider the effect of weather conditions, time of day, holding patterns at destination airports, or even route shortcuts.

Flights often get delayed leaving an airport gate, forcing pilots to open the throttle in the air to make up for lost time. As that wastes fuel, Vasquez said a better solution is to inform pilots of fuel-saving shortcuts on a route that have typically been granted by air traffic controllers.

"Airlines have known waypoints along the route that are kind of like join the dots for a flight plan. But what happens is once the pilots are in the air they can call and get approvals to get shortcuts," Vasquez explained.

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Honeywell has claimed that its flight data platform, known as "GoDirect Flight Efficiency", is now used by more than 2,300 aircraft across the globe. It said the German carrier, Lufthansa, was an early adopter and studies suggested that the airline has since saved around 8,500 tons of fuel every year.

The Federal Aviation Association (FAA) creates and administers flight safety standards in the United States while the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) regulates air safety around the world.

Persuading those regulators that reducing the amount of contingency fuel on board at take-off is safe for air travel will be the job of both Honeywell and airlines. The firm said that while it doesn't yet have a pilot customer in the United States yet, it is confident that its system can carry out the type of analysis that will satisfy regulators.

Vasquez said airlines are once again feeling the effects of a rising oil price, and there is a fresh sense of urgency about how to manage fuel use.

"They are saying, 'so we have put these best practices on the books for fuel savings but how do we know that they are being followed? How do we know that pilots are making the best decisions?'"

Pilots using the Honeywell data are given an electronic tablet in which they can take into the cockpit and visualize the different strands of data relevant to their flight. After the flight is complete, the pilot can then log on to a private site which shows them, and them only, how their flight compared to others.

Commercial pilots don't pay for the fuel but the burden of safety falls on their shoulders. It therefore could be argued that there is no real incentive for a plane's captain to take on less fuel. Vasquez said that, in fact, pilots enjoy the additional data and can even be competitive about flying routes on time while burning less kerosene.

"They have a tremendous amount of responsibility to fly the aircraft safely, but they are also performance driven," she said.