Cockpit Chronicles: A gallon saved…

On a late night Atlantic crossing I turned to the captain, Dave, and announced, “1,900 pounds up on the fuel.”

We both looked at our running fuel log. “It must be the winds,” he responded.

Dave and I regularly fly together and we make it a point to challenge each other not on who makes the best landings or who can fly the nicest approach, but which pilot burned the least amount of fuel on their leg.

Since we swap legs, each pilot gets a chance to throw down the gauntlet.

Clearly, this leg of Dave’s to London from Boston was going to be tough to beat. Typically we’ll try to fly at the optimum altitude and speed, taking into consideration our arrival time and the winds.

Tonight we were almost 20 minutes late, so Dave decided to push it up and request a speed of mach .81 for the North Atlantic crossing. And while we benefited from a couple of slight shortcuts from ATC, it was nothing that would’ve resulted in a 2,000 pound savings of fuel.

As we flew over Ireland, I took a second to plot the location of Ruthann’s home, the Cockpit Chronicles chief editor and proofreader who lives in Ireland.

Yep, we’d be flying within 5 miles of her town. Her house was just north of Galway, and today was an amazingly clear day over Ireland, so I snapped a few pictures of the area where she lives.

Since she monitors the air-to-air frequency, I let her know we were abeam her home.

She was asleep, since she’s rarely awake before noon on a weekend, but she did hear the call. She managed to roll out of bed, look out the window and snap a shot of us flying by before falling back asleep, I’m sure.

It’s interesting to see the contrast between the two views, one from above and the other on the ground at exactly same moment.

As we approached London, I adjusted the shade on my window to stay out of the rising sun directly ahead of us. It was 4 a.m. back home, but we were approaching England at 9 in the morning and I felt amazingly awake. Clearly I prefer flying through the night to any departure before 8. As far as I was concerned, this was just another daytime flight.
Dave grumbled a bit about our 10 p.m. departure, but a few cups of coffee and he was his usual loquacious self.

Our flight plan had us consuming 65,500 pounds of fuel for the flight. Dave and I both knew the real fuel savings that could be had with just the right descent planning. Typically a flight might run very close to the planned fuel burn en route, but the descent, if done at the proper time and at the right speed-ATC permitting-was the point where the fuel burn would be hundreds of pounds less than the average amount used for our flight plan.

Sure enough, after a steady, constant idle descent that’s required of flights landing in London, Dave touched down with 2,500 pounds more fuel than planned and 7 minutes earlier than the flight plan had figured.

After we cleared the runway and as we taxied toward the terminal, I called our company. They told me the gate, or ‘stand’ as they call it, was occupied by Air Canada and it would be at least 25 minutes before we could park.

At almost the same moment, Heathrow ground control called to tell us that our gate was occupied and that we could hold our position where we were.

Captain Dave, knowing his 2,000+ pounds of fuel would vanish with this kind of delay, turned to me and said, “Ask them if we could shut down here.”

“Heathrow ground, it appears we’re in for at least a 25 minute delay, any chance we could shut down here?” I complied.

Typically, most pilots would shut one engine down but they’re reluctant to shut both down during an extended delay for fear that ATC might need them to move out of the way.

But Dave has demonstrated to me that it’s possible to be up and running in less than a minute if one is willing to forgo starting the second engine when ground control asks us to move; a time that’s reasonable enough.

Domestically, we’re aware of the typical holding positions that ATC will assign, and permission to shut both engines down isn’t always needed. But in London, I could tell Dave wanted to be sure we could loiter at this spot.

“Continue forward to the next taxiway and hold short there. You can shut both down when you get there,” Heathrow ground responded.

We proceeded ahead, started the APU (auxiliary power unit) and shut both engines down. I monitored the ATC frequency as well as our company frequency and started the timer.

We were positioned perfectly to watch the incoming airplanes land on runway 9 left at Heathrow. With the engines shut down and the brakes set, this would be a perfect opportunity to snap a few pictures of the landing aircraft out the cockpit window.

And since it was a balmy 65 degrees, why not open the window? The glass on the side window of the 767 isn’t that great, and an open window would hopefully yield some nice shots.

“This is nice,” Dave said, noting the quiet cockpit and cool air coming inside. We took in the view for exactly 25 minutes before Heathrow ground told us our gate was opening up and we could start up to plan on taxiing in the next few minutes.

As we parked the brakes, I looked up at the fuel. 2,200 pounds–more than a ton of fuel saved.

When I stop to think how that 2,200 pounds of fuel or 328 gallons will power my car 14,760 miles–enough to cross the United States nearly 5 times, it becomes clear that whatever I do at home and while driving to save energy, nothing can compare to the positive impact I can have as a pilot if I just flew less like a hog.

Of course this saves money for our company and eliminates a good chunk of pollution, but I think Dave and I both enjoy the challenge. It’s a satisfaction right up there with a nice approach and landing.

Cockpit Chronicles takes you along on some of Kent’s trips as an international co-pilot on the Boeing 757 and 767 based in Boston. Have any questions for Kent? Check out Plane Answers.