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July 14, 2024
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With growing chatter about fuel burn and rising fuel prices, we kept digging in the data and came up with some interesting metrics for your consideration. The greener the number in the table the better. Our metric is seat miles per gallon – the higher this number the better, and greener.  Despite the rush to SAF and other alternatives, we will continue to see commercial aviation work with fossil fuels for decades yet.  The challenge is to squeeze out more thrust from a gallon of fuel.  This is primarily an engine challenge, but better wings and lower drag aircraft play their part.

Here’s the fuel burn for the 757. Out of date, but a useful benchmark as it was a major aircraft in use by US airlines. As readers know, based on the data, we believe the middle of the market aircraft is becoming more important in the US. We need a benchmark and selected the 757.

Now take a look at a state-of-the-art solution from Boeing, the MAX9.  You could claim the MAX10 is the better comparison, but it is not in service yet, and the MAX9 data is the best Boeing data we have for the segment.  The MAX9 improvement over the 757-200 is significant at 27%. The MAX9, with a similar load to the 757-200, is much greener and brings the industry closer to a more sustainable future.

Here we have the A321neo, also state-of-the-art and in the same segment. The numbers are rather eye-popping. Hawaiian is exploiting the aircraft’s capabilities and extracting really good, and improving, fuel burn.  Even as Alaska is ditching aging A319s and A320s, with numbers like this would they ditch the A321neo as well? After all, their A321neos are delivering over 12% better seat miles/gallon than their MAX9s. 

Finally, to offer aircraft comparisons withing airlines and ensure the colors better reflect how these aircraft are performing. We show fuel burn at the airlines operating the A321neo, comparing their other single-aisles.

Here are Alsaka Airlines’ numbers for their fleet. The ex-Virgin America Airbus fleet data was strange in 2018 and 2019.

Here we have American Airlines numbers for their fleet. The MAX8 number for 2020 likely reflects test flights and is best ignored.

Here are Hawaiian’s numbers. The 717 ops are short inter-island flights and this puts the fuel burn at a disadvantage.  The A321neo numbers are improving steadily.  We have said it before, Hawaiian is the poster child for the GTF-powered A321neo.

The road (or runway?) to sustainable aviation is going to be long and difficult. Expect technology detours and sidebars along the way. This is no bad thing.  At the same time as an ecologically sustainable future is being worked on, it is crucial to understand what is possible.  Commercial aviation will play its role by pushing technologies and science, exploring those detours and sidebars.  However, pay attention to the first word in the name “commercial aviation industry”.  In the effort to create sustainability, don’t lose sight of the commercial aspects of this industry. Left room to evolve and excogitate, markets work.

author avatar
Addison Schonland
Co-Founder AirInsight. My previous life includes stints at Shell South Africa, CIC Research, and PA Consulting. Got bitten by the aviation bug and ended up an Avgeek. Then the data bug got me, making me a curious Avgeek seeking data-driven logic. Also, I appreciate conversations with smart people from whom I learn so much. Summary: I am very fortunate to work with and converse with great people.

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