Plane Answers: Whistling airplanes and heavy passengers that cost airlines more in fuel?

Welcome to Gadling’s feature, Plane Answers, where our resident airline pilot, Kent Wien, answers your questions about everything from takeoff to touchdown and beyond. Have a question of your own? Ask away!

Julie asks:

Hi Kent!

Last week on a flight out of ATL on a CRJ during takeoff there was a high pitched sound that got higher and higher until it eventually stopped as we climbed up near the clouds. There was a thunderstorm passing through Atlanta so the plane was wet, I was wondering if the noise had to do with the moisture on the outside of the plane? It was noticeable enough to make me look up for a second, but it disappeared pretty quickly.

Do you know what it could have been? I think every time I fly (although not that often) I come up with a new question for you! I love reading this feature every week, thanks!

Thanks Julie,

I’m pretty sure what you were hearing was a door seal that had just enough of an air leak to cause it to whistle. As you climbed the cabin fully pressurized, which must have stopped the noise.

We occasionally see this in the cockpit around the windows. If it’s too annoying, maintenance will pressurize the aircraft on the ground to find the source of the leak. This leak isn’t really a safety issue, but if it’s annoying enough to the passengers or crew, then it really needs to be fixed.
Diana asks:

Hi Kent,

My question has probably been asked a thousand times but I’ve only had to ask this of myself recently because of an argumentative essay I’m writing on overweight people being charged extra for airfares.

I saw your comments on a plane’s fuel plan which talked about the factors needing to be considered when designing the fuel plan. These included the forecasted winds of an aircraft’s journey, the altitude the aircraft will be flying at and the weight of the aircraft.

Do you think that it would be correct to assume that the heavier the plane is, the more fuel the plane will need to be operational?

Also, if the weight of the plane was too heavy, could that cause a safety risk? Yes it may sound ‘obvious’ to some (if in fact the answer is ‘yes’) but I just thought I’d ask for confirmation.

Thanks a lot.

The answer is a definite yes.

Let me give you an example:

We’re encouraged to NOT take unnecessary amounts of extra fuel. We’re told that it takes an extra 10% of the weight of the added fuel just to carry it along on average.

So our airline has also reduced the amount of water carried on board for the lav sinks to the bare minimum. That has saved about 40 gallons of water on the 757, or 240 pounds per flight.

As for safety, that’d be a hard one to argue. The FAA doesn’t require airlines to weigh each passenger, but uses a system of average weights for each passenger of 190 pounds in the summer and 195 in the winter.

Thanks for the great question, Diana.

Do you have a question about something related to the pointy end of an airplane? Ask Kent and he’ll try to use it for next Monday’s Plane Answers. Check out his other blog, Cockpit Chronicles and travel along with him at work.