Several airlines are experiencing higher than normal winds on routes between the United States and Europe, forcing pilots to stop for gas on what would normally be a non-stop route. Unplanned pitstops are nothing new. But with airlines looking to save costs wherever possible, several are relying narrow body aircraft flying close to the limit of their range to serve city pairs that would not fill up a larger, and longer range airplane.
In December United reported 43 stops for extra fuel out of some 1,100 transatlantic flights using the company’s Boeing 757s according to the Wall Street Journal. The Boeing 757 has long been favored by many airlines for longer routes with lower passenger demand. Though out of production for several years, the 757 offers carriers a range of more than 4,500 miles in a small enough package to keep operating costs low enough to justify routes that could not fill the larger 767 or Airbus A330. American and US Airways also use the 757 on transatlantic routes and have reported more than normal fuel stops. Delta has the largest 757 fleet in the world, but says it has yet to need a fuel stop for its transatlantic flights this winter according to the Journal article.
Weather forecasts usually provide accurate enough wind predictions for pilots to adjust fuel loads on an airplane to ensure a non-stop flight. And airplanes often fly with less than full tanks since the engines end up burning more fuel in order to carry the weight of the extra gallons. But with the higher winds, even full tanks may not be enough. Airlines are having to stop at airports along the great circle route between Europe and the United States including in Ireland, Iceland, Canada and even as close as Maine and New York before continuing on to their final destinations.
Airlines are required to carry enough fuel to complete the flight to the destination based on the weather forecast, fly on to a nearby alternate airport if weather or some other issue prevented a landing at the planned destination and still have enough fuel for 45 minutes of flying. The idea is to have enough reserve fuel for unanticipated problems beyond bad weather in the forecast.
It’s possible that some of these flights would have made it to their destinations without refueling, but the pilots are opting to stop for gas in order to prevent using up their reserve fuel.
United says it is compensating passengers for missed flights, hotels and other hassles encountered when the flight includes a visit to somewhere like Gander in eastern Canada. Before modern long range airliners were able to make non-stop transatlantic flights, airports like the ones in Canada, Iceland and Ireland were commonly used as refueling stops for flights between the North America and Europe. The Boeing 707 made a fuel stop in Gander on its way to Paris during its much heralded first flight from New York with Pan Am in 1958.
Today many major cities on both continents are linked by non-stop flights. The longest non-stop flight currently being flown by an airline links Newark, New Jersey to Singapore aboard a Singapore Airlines flight that stretches the range to just under 10,000 miles. The flight lasts more than 18 hours.
Via Wired Autopia: http://www.wired.com/autopia/