Monday, May 11, 2015

Fuel Pushing

#4 of my series Behind the Cockpit Door

It sounds like a weird notion, Fuel Pushing, but it’s my description of the pressure that can be placed upon the Captain from other airline personnel, be it a dispatcher, a load planner, a gate agent or a supervisor to take less fuel on a particular flight to allow more passengers to be boarded. 
Jet fuel is, after all, weight (at 6.7 pounds per gallon).  If the fuel load is reduced by 1000 pounds (149 Gallons) that’s equal to the weight of 5 or 6 more passengers who can be accommodated on the flight.  Getting passengers from point A to point B, is the name of the game in the airline business, hence the occasional overwhelming push to get the pilot to agree to less fuel which means filling more seats on the airplane, particularly if it’s the last flight of the day and the airline may have to bump passengers and pay the expense of their overnight stay.
As a new captain it’s easy to be caught up in the desire to “help out” while losing sight of the most important issue of all, safety.  Early in my captain career, I found myself the victim of extreme fuel pushing on a winter flight from Boston to Denver where we had very strong headwinds requiring more fuel than normal to make the trip.  Like every captain, I had developed my own personal minimums (which I’ll talk about in another blog) and it was tough to withstand the pressure from so many pleadings to just reduce the fuel by another 1000 pounds, please. 
My argument went something like this:  “It’s not my fault that the airplane doesn’t have the ability to carry all the passengers you want to take AND the fuel I feel we need to safely make this length of flight. I’ll be happy to make a fuel stop (which, if properly planned and coordinated, can be done with as little as 20 minutes of extra time), but I’m not taking less fuel given the strong headwinds and forecast arrival fuel on the flight plan with the current fuel load.”  After being approached by just one more “pusher” (out of a total of 4 or 5 various airline personnel) I thought to myself, “now what part of NO don’t you understand?”