Whiney Pilots Complain That Stingy Airlines Are Forcing Them To Fly "Uncomfortably Low On Fuel"

Ugh, those selfish pilots can’t be bothered to help their airlines return to profitability. No, instead they’re whining to NASA that they’re being forced to fly “uncomfortably low on fuel” and that “safety for passengers and crews could be compromised.”

These flight simulator jockeys want more fuel, but that isn’t likely to happen anytime soon even with oil at $117 a barrel and crashing fast. The FAA finds the situation perfectly acceptable.

“We can’t dabble in the business policies or the personnel policies of an airline,” said FAA spokesman Les Dorr. He said there was no indication safety regulations were being violated.

The September 2005 safety alert was issued by NASA’s confidential Aviation Safety Reporting System, which allows air crews to report safety problems without fear their names will be disclosed.

With fuel prices now their biggest cost, airlines are aggressively enforcing new policies designed to reduce consumption.

Just look at the complaints flooding into NASA’s Aviation Safety Reporting System:

“I know our program manager is ranking captains on landing with less fuel. I don’t care to be ranked. I think this is a safety problem and I believe fuel is your friend,” the captain said. “Looking back, I would have liked more gas yesterday, and I was already carrying tanker fuel. If I wouldn’t have had this extra there would have been real problems.”

The captain of a Boeing 747 said he began to run low on fuel after meeting strong headwinds over the Atlantic en route to JFK in New York in February. After contacting his company to discuss a refueling stop, the captain said he was told by his operations manager that the flight actually needed less fuel than had been loaded on board and would have enough to get to JFK without stopping.

But by the time he reached JFK, his fuel was “far below my comfort zone and probably less than the minimum fuel required by the FARs (federal aviation regulations),” the captain said. “Our fuel situation had not become critical yet, but had we had any delay, I would have had to declare a fuel emergency.”

“I am not sure if the ‘flight plan’ as given to me by my company was a real flight plan, or if they were just telling me it was so that I would continue to JFK … thus saving them time and expense. … In the future, if such a situation presents itself again, I will divert to my initial destination regardless of what my company says I can do. The safety of my crew far outweighs any financial burden to the company.”

The captain of a Boeing 737 en route to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in February said he was forced to divert in bad weather to Palm Beach International Airport to refuel because less than the normal amount of fuel for the flight was loaded before takeoff.

“This was probably the new fuel-saving initiative by the company management to save money,” the captain said. “North-South operation is very unpredictable along the East Coast. I don’t think this is a place where we should skimp on fuel.”

The captain said he had a “lengthy discussion” with his company’s dispatcher “relaying my opinion on the reduced fuel load and my suggestion not to compromise fuel loads in and out of Florida.” But the captain said he received the same reduced amount on his next flight.

“So much for my professional input!” he said.

The airlines have made it clear that pilots who don’t stop whining and start flying will be fired.

American notified dispatchers July 7 that their records on fuel approved for flights would be monitored, and dispatchers not abiding by company guidelines could ultimately be fired.

Union officials responded that “it appears safety has become a second thought” for the company. American and US Airways blame the complaints on labor negotiations – both are in contract talks with the complaining unions.

Look people, it’s been 18 years since a plane crashed because it ran out of fuel. That means there isn’t a problem anymore. Besides, 85 people survived.

Pilots forced to fly low on fuel worry about safety [AP]
Pilots’ reports on low fuel [AP]
Avianca Flight 52 [Wikipedia]


Edit Your Comment

  1. humphrmi says:

    Sad. The airlines used to pride themselves on safety over profit. Of course, their talking heads will spew the PR line that “at no time is passenger safety compromised”, just like Southwest and AA did when their airplanes went without inspections on schedule. Remember what happened then? They found… (drumroll please)… airplanes that were unsafe to fly, and hand to ground part of their fleet while they were repaired.

    Unfortunately the airlines won’t be forced to back off this stupid practice until a plane makes an emergency landing, or worse, has to ditch into the Atlantic.

  2. ColoradoShark says:

    Can we expect the pilot to pass the hat before take off so he can buy a bit of extra fuel?

    What would call that? Poopy pants avoidance fee!

  3. krispykrink says:

    Just wait till they all start falling out of the sky when they run out of fuel from waiting in holding patterns for too long.

  4. XTC46 says:

    @krispykrink: That isn’t too far off unfortunately. I fly From Hawaii to Cali on a pretty regular basis, and its rare we don’t see delays while in flight. And in that kind of flight, we cant exactly land and refuel anywhere.

  5. Finalboss says:

    fuel gauge: low
    sarcasm gauge: flipping out

  6. knackeredmom says:

    Whenever I read a story about the aviation industry, I check with Patrick Smith’s column, Ask the Pilot at salon.com. Smith demystifies many aspects of commercial flight, including this issue. As much as I’d love to blame the airlines here, this column [www.salon.com] discusses the issue of fuel at length. In a nutshell, “If the existing protocols are truly inadequate, pilots and their unions can lobby the Federal Aviation Administration to change them. But as the vast majority of pilots will tell you, the guidelines are ample.” RTA and check out the archives if you have even a passing interest.

  7. TVarmy says:

    So, is this for all flights or just domestic ones? I could see a long domestic flight being okay to skimp on fuel as there are airports they can land at in an emergency, or, heaven forbid, should they run out of gas in the middle of nowhere, they could attempt a landing on a flat stretch of land, preferable to the middle of the Atlantic. It’s still not good, as it’s deviations from the flight plan, which introduces the potential for more mistakes. I could understand it though, because airplanes use a lot of fuel and a smaller tank of fuel would make it more efficient as it has less weight.

    However, this is inexcusable for long-haul, international flights, or shorter flight where there are no airports between the two terminals on the itinerary, since that would make an emergency landing much harder.

  8. TVarmy says:

    Anyone with any engineering experience know if it hurts the plane’s mechanics in any way to run out of fuel, even if it does land safely? I know if a car runs out of fuel, it can mess up the fuel injection system. I know airplanes have engines that cost something like tens of millions of dollars, so it would certainly drive up ticket prices if this plan with keeping less fuel in the tank backfires.

  9. Snaptastic says:

    As an air traffic controller, I have seen some airline pilots request certain runways to save on fuel. One morning, I had to listen to a pilot yap on for over a minute about getting a certain runway “because we can save over 200 gallons of fuel if we can use Runway **.”

    Unfortunately, I have also heard pilots request opposite direction departures of runways because they supposedly did not have enough fuel to make the taxi to/departure off the proper runway. I haven’t heard that one often, but I have heard it more than once.

  10. By law, planes have to land with a certain amount of fuel in the tank. IIRC it’s 1 hour for a Cessna 172, so I’m betting it’s more for an airliner. One hour of fuel is quite a bit of safety margin. It seems like companies were landing with more than the required reserve, and now want to land with less (while presumably still following the law). I’m not particularly concerned over this, as long as they are still landing with the required reserve.

  11. @TVarmy:
    I would imagine having the engine flame out would be really bad. Not to mention the impact of a hard unpowered landing, and having to wash the seats and isles when the passengers collectively shit themselves!

  12. shoelace414 says:

    FAR AIM 135.209

    you need enough fuel to fly to your destination with an extra 30 minutes of fuel in the day, and 45 minutes at night.

    But this is the absolute minimum. As a student General aviation pilot (Cessna 172) my instructor, and I concur, requires at least an extra hour of fuel.

  13. shoelace414 says:

    the regs require at least 30 minutes of extra fuel in the daytime and 45 minutes at night. However, this is the absolute minimum! My instructor (I’m a Cessna 172 student pilot) requires, and I agree with, at least one extra hour of fuel at all times.

  14. crazyasianman says:

    so… lower fuel margins have already been causing more delays and mayhem with overworked air traffic controllers due to more pilots declaring minimum fuel. lovely direction we’re headed here.

  15. krispykrink says:

    @xtc46: That’s exactly why I brought it up. The last time I flew, in the late 90’s, we were delayed on the tarmac for about an hour, with engines running. Then we were put into a holding pattern because of bad weather arriving at SFO. Apparently the pilot had the make the request to immediately land due to low fuel. I liked that pilot too. He was completely open and honest about everything and handled that bird like a pro in weather that wanted to flip us over on the runway.

  16. humphrmi says:

    I want as much fuel in the plane as my pilot thinks it needs. I don’t want airline employees who sit behind a computer all day making decisions about the safety of the aircraft I’m flying in. If the pilots say they need more fuel, screw the regs. They’re probably all outdated anyway, knowing the way our government works.

  17. forgottenpassword says:

    I wonder what would cost less. An adequate amount of emergency fuel or emergency parachutes for all passengers.

  18. APFPilot says:

    @shoelace414: Those are the minimums for a reason. I fly almost daily and my personal minimums are at least an hour in the tanks on arrival.

  19. floraposte says:

    @TVarmy: The engines aren’t likely to be harmed, but the plane is usually going to sustain some damage because they’re not going to be able to put it down in the planned location, they don’t get a second chance to go around, and they won’t have reverse thrust to aid in stopping. The legendary example is the Gimli Glider ([en.wikipedia.org]), where they lucked out in having a glider pilot aboard and in finding an airstrip, and even then the aircraft needed some serious repairs. That aircraft generated its electrical power for landing gear, etc., from the engines, not an uncommon arrangement; while backup batteries are a part of some systems (I have no idea how standard they are), they don’t last forever either.

    You really, really don’t want to run out of fuel.

  20. Sudonum says:

    Look at it this way, they’ll be less flammable material at the crash site.

  21. TVarmy says:

    @forgottenpassword: Better option: Get life insurance for all the passengers, pay for it with the tickets, and name the airline as the beneficiary. No need to make it public knowledge, just come up with a weird excuse as to why the passengers need to get physicals now. (My personal choice: They need to figure out how much fuel they’ll need to accommodate the weight and shape of the passengers and how best to balance the plane according to their body densities. Another option: We need to figure out what $10 sandwich will best suit you nutritionally.)

  22. MorrisseyTheCat says:

    …and yes, I DO realize the rest was sarcasm, but that was a bit much

  23. jjason82 says:

    I don’t understand. Planes are going to use the same amount of fuel to do a month’s worth of flights whether the tank is completely full or only half full, aren’t they? Its the same distance from A to B, and the plane is still burning fuel the same. Or do they burn fuel faster with a full tank?

  24. Chese says:

    The airlines have to have enough fuel for the flight, plus fuel to an alternate airport and then an additional amount (I think 30 minutes worth) and whatever the airline may tack on. It is unfortunate that some airlines may pressure pilots and I think this is something the pilot’s union could deal with.

    On a side note, there are many instances of airliner size aircraft running out of fuel for various reasons and actually turned out fine. They do glide! See the Gimli Glider [en.wikipedia.org] and the Air Transat flight 236 [en.wikipedia.org] over the Atlantic

  25. Coles_Law says:

    A full tank weighs more, so you will burn more fuel for a given trip.

  26. InThrees says:

    You’re missing point jason – a plane has to burn more fuel to carry a heavier fuel load. Less fuel at take off means less fuel burnt moving a heavier load to the destination.

  27. Chese says:

    @jjason82: Yes, it takes more fuel to fly a heavier airplane so the more fuel you carry the more fuel is used just to fly that extra fuel. Just consider a full airliner can carry 20,000+ gallons of fuel with a non-discounted price of 5+ bucks a gallon. Airlines pay less generally.

  28. nicemarmot617 says:

    No no, you guys don’t get it – the airlines are trying to get their on-time ratings up! If their planes are about to run out of fuel they get to skip the landing queues!

  29. North of 49 says:

    The Gimli Glider happened because several people messed up the math when fueling the plane.

    I really don’t want to know that my plane doesn’t have enough fuel to land….

  30. tedyc03 says:

    @Chese: 45 minutes but that’s about right, according to the recent AP stories.

  31. OsiUmenyiora says:

    Good photo pull on that Avianca disaster. Transcripts between that Avianca flight at control showed that the pilot was asked many times by the tower whether he was declaring a fuel emergency and many times he declined. Then the plane crashed into Long Island.

  32. MorrisseyTheCat says:

    Ww. Jls mch, Cry? “Flght Sm Jckys?” Ths “flght sm jckys” r tryng t kp y sf, nd blv m, thr’s lt mr nvlvd thn flght sm gm wld hv y blv. Bt thn, wldn’t xpct dsk jcky t ndrstnd nythng tchncl. N wndr n n wnts t fly nymr. Y’ll gt wht y py fr sn ngh.

  33. smonkey says:

    yeah, Raise your had if your had your flight delayed for landing for 45 min?

    ::raises hand::

    Lets hope they don’t skimp too much

  34. smonkey says:

    @jjason82: Fuel is heavy. If you carry the bare amount you need your flights will cost less to run. It’s the same reason you only take a couple of litters of water when you go hiking instead of gallons. If you aren’t going to need it it’s easier to not carry it. That is until one gets stuck in a holding pattern and runs out….then lawsuits are expensive.

  35. Pylon83 says:

    What we have here (in the comments) is a bunch of mostly non-pilots discussing a fairly technical topic that they know absolutely nothing about. Fuel minimums are set by the FAA, or in some cases by the Company in their operations manual, which is subsequently approved by the FAA and becomes a binding rule on the company. For domestic flights under IFR (instrument flight rules), FAR 91.167 states that one must have enough fuel to fly to their destination, then fly to their alternate, and then fly for 45 minutes after that. This is only what has to be PLANNED for. If they happen to land with 30 minutes of fuel, or even on fumes, no regulation was broken as long as they PLANNED to arrive with 45. This is all calculated at normal cruising speed. So, that 45 minutes could in reality be a lot longer with the power pulled back. While that can’t be figured into the minimum fuel calculations, it can certainly be done if necessary. As a CFI, I’ve seen pilots who refuse to fly without a 2hr fuel reserve, as well as plenty (myself included) who are fine with the minimum reserves. When you’re running an airline with thousands of pilots, you’re going to have a few who are overly conservative and want way more fuel than is reasonably necessary. This is what the airlines are trying to stop, and since the pilots are their employees, they have every right to dictate how they do their jobs so long as it comports with the Federal Aviation Regulations. Things like this get over sensationalized, mostly by folks who have no idea what they are talking about. The FAA doesn’t care because they set a minimum and so long as it’s followed it’s not their problem. They are precisely right that they shouldn’t tell the airline how to manage its pilots and planes.

  36. dragonfire81 says:

    So is this one of those deals where nothing will change until a plane crashes and a bunch of people die due to this?

  37. farker says:

    Actually, the price of jet fuel has averaged about $143/barrel this year.


  38. seamer says:

    At the end of the day, the reality here is a good compromise between what the pilots say they want, and what dispatchers say they need.

    Its very similar to knowing you need 4 reams of A4 paper to print a job and asking for 6 just in case, and your manager saying “suck it up, you need 4 so you get 4”.

    A good manager would let you get 5 reams.

  39. @Pylon83:

    Thank you dude.

    Destination + Alternative site + 45 minutes.

    And that is for flights within the continental USA.

  40. SinisterMatt says:


    Maybe I missed something here, but are all the vowels on your keyboard broken?

    Seriously though, technical issue or not, such things like this make me a little nervous to put my pregnant wife on a plane to Portland next week. I hope that pilot is conservative with is fuel reserves.


  41. nsv says:

    @Pylon83: I’m a non-pilot, and my entirely unprofessional opinion is that if the pilot says we need x amount of fuel, then we need x amount of fuel. It’s very easy for a desk jockey to make a mistake. Being on the plane tends to bring the equation into much clearer focus.

    I can’t sit here and run these calculations, so I have to put my faith in the people behind that locked door. So that’s what I’ll do. Why would I say to the pilot “Yes, I trust you in all other aspects of flying this plane, but when it comes to calculating the amount of fuel needed I think you should defer to someone else”?

    @SinisterMatt: He’s been disemvoweled. It’s effective, but I wish there were another way of highlighting questionable posts while still leaving them easily readable.

  42. Bkzbeatboxxx says:

    That’s a scary thought, I don’t think that airlines should skimp fuel to save money. Yeah it may be JUST enough to land but then again shit happens, and when you have the responsibility of transporting people safely I don’t think that they should compromise safety because they can count. I hope that a plane never falls out of the sky because companies are too stingy.

  43. BMRFILE says:

    I applaud the effort by the airlines in svaing costs and trying to squeeze out a profit. They started charging for alcohol, snack and meals, and they only have a limited supply on each flight. This cuts down on unnecessary weight. You don’t want to go hungry on your flight? Eat before boarding. They also started charging for luggage…something they should’ve done a long time ago. Why do you need 5 pairs of shoes when you go on vacation?

    But I’m not too sure about overriding the pilot’s decision on fuel supply. They need to meet somewhere in the middle and establish a new standard, as extra fuel is also extra weight. But to carry just enough for a flight is stupid. Like one pilot said in the comment, what if they encountered heavier headwind than usual, or a flight that normally doesn’t fill every seat all of a sudden is packed? Let the pilots be the judge of this. They’re the professionals, and I trust my life with them each time I fly. I’m pretty sure they can make a solid judgment on how much fuel they should carry.

  44. woot says:

    Here’s some hard data: DOT figures show 151 fuel emergencies at Newark in 2007, more than double the 72 incidents in 2006, and almost triple the 44 in 2005. [www.smh.com.au]

    True, all of those planes landed safely with FAA minimums on board. But other aircraft have to go into extended holds to give way to them, resulting in a knock-on effect and much more workload for controllers.

    The worst case scenario is they have to divert to an alternate (and unfamiliar) airport and have an emergency while en-route. As any pilot will tell you, “fuel is your friend” – it gives you time to troubleshoot and get the aircraft in the best possible configuration for landing, given whatever problem you have. But you are desperately short on time thanks to your fuel situation, and that makes mistakes – and accidents – much more likely.

    Pilots really need to feel free to make their own fuel calls based on experience (destination, weather, time of day, etc), but they are being pressured to accept whatever a dispatcher says (and those people are in fear of their jobs if they err on the side of caution). Not a good situation.

  45. Triborough says:

    Another case of accountants making decisions over competent professionals. Accountants making decisions only works in accounting.

  46. MorrisseyTheCat says:

    RGNL PST (dsmvwld):
    “Ww. Jls mch, Cry? “Flght Sm Jckys?” Ths “flght sm jckys” r tryng t kp y sf, nd blv m, thr’s lt mr nvlvd thn flght sm gm wld hv y blv. Bt thn, wldn’t xpct dsk jcky t ndrstnd nythng tchncl. N wndr n n wnts t fly nymr. Y’ll gt wht y py fr sn ngh.”

    Gss dsrspct s nly llwd TWRD thrs by th blggrs bshng prfssnl pstns tht dsrv rspct! Gd lck wth THT knd f blg fr lng

  47. MorrisseyTheCat says:

    @SnstrMtt: Np, pprntly cntrng bltnt slm t prfssn s nly prmttd n n sd. Snc Bn s n vctn, th vwl thng wll b mplyd t whm fr 2 wks.

  48. timmus says:

    Though people generally refer to the Avianca crash and the Gimli Glider for fuel starvation examples, there’s actually a pretty vivid one: United Flight 173, a DC-8 which went down in a Portland, Oregon neighborhood in 1978.

    There’s a good PDF article here:
    but a very long, enjoyable read on how it unfolded (with transcript) appears in Air Disaster by Macarthur Job, which I suggest for anyone interested in crashes.

    In short, the captain had the crew working a landing gear problem while circling with no regard to the fuel levels. Then the fuel ran out. The captain was considered to be somewhat of an ass, but he was considered “god” back in those years. After that, United immediately adopted cockpit resource management techniques and by the 1980s most airlines had the crew working as a team.

  49. Parting says:

    Just raise the damn ticket price! I prefer to shell out some money and get to my destination in ONE LIVING piece.

    We are flying! So if we fall, we have good chances of dying. I REQUEST my security first, please.

    @BMRFILE: There is no ”in the middle”. I prefer to pay extra for extra-fuel, just like insurance. If it safer, people will pay. I doubt you want to be stuck in a plane, which will run out of fuel, going through bad weather or turbulence.

    I’m waiting for advertisements : ”Our airline company values your life more than fuel levels. We are safer, come do business with us.”

  50. shufflemoomin says:

    Personally, I think using that picture is incredibly thoughtless and inconsiderate. Think of the people who died in that accident.

  51. Pylon83 says:

    There is little to no chance of actually running out of fuel. With GPS and advanced flight management systems, as well as highly precises fuel flow gauges, the pilot will know almost immediately after reaching cruise how close it’s going to be on fuel. Planning for airline flights is very technical and very precise. While the is the occasional stronger than expected headwind, this is something that will be realized almost right away, and the FMS combined with the GPS will give the pilot an exact time to the destination and a calculation of how much fuel will remain on-board upon landing. It’s not as if the pilots are being asked to plan to land with only fumes in the tanks, they are being asked to carry only the minimum required fuel (be it company policy or FAA mandated). This isn’t really even a safety issue, as the pilot will know way ahead of time whether there is going to be a problem. At that point, if they do indeed run out of gas, it’s simply bad piloting.

  52. BuddhaLite says:

    I fail to see how putting less fuel in the plane saves cost. If it’s full at take off and uses 1/2 the fuel then you still have the fuel in the tank. It’s not like it suddenly disappears and they have to buy it again.

  53. Pylon83 says:

    If you would read the comments, you would see that more fuel=more weight. More weight=higher fuel burn. Burning more fuel costs more money.

  54. Triborough says:

    True story:
    Back in the early 90s flying USAir out of Toronto we had to make an emergency landing at Buffalo. The reason, they forgot to refuel in Toronto.

    @timmus: Many years ago, I had as my reading material while flying a non-fiction book called something like “Modern Air Disasters” with a photo of an crashed airplane on it. That was fun to read at the airport.

  55. meadandale says:


    I wonder what would cost less:

    1) Carrying more fuel on the plane
    2) Paying off the lawsuits for the family members left behind when this ridiculous fuel management cost savings program results in a crash.

  56. keleka says:

    “The safety of my crew far outweighs any financial burden to the company.”

    If all he cared about was his crew, he could have tossed some passengers overboard to lighten the plane.

  57. BiZarRroBALlmeR says:

    @Bevill: I agree, it’s like these people that put $10 worth of gas, 4 times a week in their car thinking they’ll get better mileage if the buy gas in smaller increments rather than $40 dollars in one shot.

  58. njovin says:

    @Bevill: @BiZarRroBALlmeR:

    Weight has a much higher impact on the performance of an airplane than does a car.

    Even in my plane (little Cessna 172), taking off with full tanks vs. just what I need equals longer takeoff roll, poorer climb performance, and a landing that requires more runway due to the extra weight.

    It’s safer to takeoff/land with less weight, generally speaking, vs. being overloaded. The more fuel they carry, the more they burn, the more expensive your tickets are.

  59. Pylon83 says:

    Taking off with more or less weight has absolutely no bearing on safety, so long as the airplane is not over-gross and the pilot does proper planning.

  60. ryatziv says:

    @Pylon83: Even if it is just “bad piloting,” it’s peoples’ lives that are on the line.

  61. Tank says:

    when it comes to airplanes and fuel, you only have too much fuel if the plane is on fire.

  62. seamer says:

    @woot: I think there was an article here recently where pilots were ordered by their company to declare fuel emergency so they get to land quicker and keep to schedule, even if they had enough fuel for their alternate routes+45minutes.

    ATC have to allow a pilot to land in higher priority when an emergency is called.

  63. MorrisseyTheCat says:

    @Pylon83: Until they have an air traffic hold…but that never happens right? (Maybe not at 3,000 flt where the itty bitty prop plane inexperienced weekend jockeys fly)

  64. MorrisseyTheCat says:

    @OsiUmenyiora: That is a good example, because not only is there pressure on them to take less fuel (even though variables in that particular day’s flight weather / routing/ and traffic require pilot modifications to what they feel is safe in THOSE conditions), but the Avianca pilots were obviously pressured (as many are) NOT to declare emergencies (because that opens all new cans of worms for management to freak over). Fortunately, most US pilots who have a union overseeing these situations, with safety committees who reiterate the right to pilot discretion in terms of safety, and corp shills are less likely to get away with intimidating them into not calling an emergency when it IS, and going by the FARs at MINIMUM

  65. Pylon83 says:

    Are you at pilot at all? I am not a low time “prop” pilot, and I also don’t work for a major airline or even fly for a living. While I don’t really feel the need to prove myself to you, I am a Certified Flight Instructor with Multi Engine and Instrument ratings. I have over 1000hrs in airplanes ranging from single engine piston to large turbine powered, pressurized airplanes. I know the FAR’s backwards and forwards, and there is nothing in there that says the airline can’t require the pilot to fly within their rules. If the pilot doesn’t want to comply with the airlines policies, so long as they are within the FARs, it’s the airline option to fire him/her (of course, the unions complicate this, but that’s another issue). No one is being asked to compromise on safety here, just that they fly within the fuel requirements set by the company. The FAA set a minimum that it decided was safe. That’s the baseline. If the company wants to operate at that baseline, so be it. The FAA has decided it is safe. No one is going to make the pilot fly with only a 45 minute reserve, but if he/she won’t, the company has every right to find someone who will. Delays happen, that’s why the 45 minute reserve is built in. With today’s modern ATC technology, delays can be forecast ahead of time and that is taken into account by dispatchers who assign the fuel loads. Safety is not being compromised simply because some overly conservative pilot wants to fly with a 2hr fuel reserve and the company says you only get 1hr. If the pilots don’t like their companies fuel policies, perhaps they should go work for another airline.

  66. Just FYI, the people who decide the routes, fuel loads, alternate airports, etc are called Flight Dispatchers. Flight Dispatchers are licensed by the FAA, and are jointly (with the pilot) responsible for the safety of the flight. So if a plane runs out of fuel, the Dispatcher’s license is at risk too (of course that’s not as scary as the pilot’s life being at risk, but we can assume dispatchers don’t want people to die either).

    My point is that this isn’t some accounting rep in Mumbai who is making fuel load decisions, it’s a highly trained expert on how much fuel, etc you need to get from point A to B without dying.

  67. MorrisseyTheCat says:

    r y n ctl MJR rln PLT? f s, wht qpmnt d y fly, r r y mngmnt r lw tm prp “plt”. Pls spcfy whr yr “xprts” cms frm, d t th cntnt y r pstng.
    Th F gvs th Plt n Cmmnd FLL thrty t dcd wht thy fl s sf f tht gs n xcss f th FRs bsd n thr ssssmnt f th CTL flght. Cmpny mngmnt dsn’t mk ths fnl dcsns, s t s nt thr lvs r lcns n th ln. Y (ps mn thy) cn g hd nd TRY t ntmdt thm nt cmprmsng sfty t sv bck, bt vn f y scd n trmntng thm, thr jb wll thr b rnsttd r thr bnk ccnt wll ncrs xpnntlly.
    Wh crs, rght? By tht tm th nw mgt tm wll b n plc t rn th rln ndr sm mr, s t’s thr prblm, rght?

  68. pdizz says:

    “We can’t dabble in the business policies or the personnel policies of an airline,”

    um… isnt that exactly what the FAA does, dabble in airlines’ practices to ensure safety?

  69. Pylon83 says:

    No, the FAA’s job is to set standards and ensure they are followed. Until they get reports that the FAA standards are not being followed, they don’t and shouldn’t care.

  70. Riddar says:

    Ya know, it really does not make sense to have to infer what MorrisseyTheCat was saying solely from Pylon83’s indignant (possibly justifiably so) response. If the moderator really wants to delete comments or ban commentors, so be it, but right now there is about a screens worth of wasted space on this page as well as a few replies that don’t make a lick of sense because of this vowel silliness.

    And yep, sorry that this is off topic to the original article, but I think it is very relevant to the readability of the page as a whole.

  71. Pylon83 says:

    I disagree with the censoring of his post as well. While it was very pointed, I think he had a somewhat valid concern. I don’t mind being called out, especially when I’m making fairly technical judgments based on my personal experience and expertise. If we just took what everyone said at face value and didn’t question the validity and substance of their perspective, we all become lemmings and discussion goes nowhere.

  72. Remember it is…. Destination + Alternative site + 45 minutes.

    For a big jumbo flying into Memphis, the alternative site is another big airport (Nashville, Little Rock etc), it ain’t a semi-improved strip in rural Mississippi.

    Besides being capable of handling the size of the plane AND (a BIG AND) the alternative landing sites are seperated by a distance such that unexpected severe weather at the original destination would not likely occur at the alternative destination at the same time.

  73. Riddar says:

    @Pylon83: “I disagree with the censoring of his post as well. While it was very pointed, I think he had a somewhat valid concern. I don’t mind being called out, especially when I’m making fairly technical judgments based on my personal experience and expertise. If we just took what everyone said at face value and didn’t question the validity and substance of their perspective, we all become lemmings and discussion goes nowhere.”

    Perhaps the only way to maintain a discussion will be to copy and paste the entirety of the text you are commenting to. That way even if the moderator feels the need semi-delete semi-neuter a post, the responses made will still make some form of sense.

    And I will mention the moderator reading this commentno doubt with a cursor hovering over the ‘disemvowel’ button that I spent nearly ten minutes trying to find the original ‘We can now disemvowel you, lol’ post to make my comments there, but it seems to have been deleted for some reason. Hard to have discourse or conversation when it is not only heavily moderated but there is no public forum to discuss the moderation, no? And it is a shame, from what I can tell it removed from the page what might have been the only interesting and on topic back and forth conversation in the comments here. A high percentage of remaining contents seem to be questions repeated earlier questions, questions that were answered in the article or earlier comments, and not one but TWO posts whose sole contents are jokes about airliner fires.

  74. Pylon83 says:

    One must remember that an alternate is not always required. In some cases, it is simply destination + 45 minutes. An alternate is only required if, from 1hr before to 1hr after the expected arrival time the weather is forecast to be less than 3 mile visibility and 2000ft ceiling.

  75. Aren’t all the new fees and baggage limit because of rising fuel costs? Didn’t the airlines claim these fees were the only way they could afford to keep enough fuel in the planes? So, they are taking in more money and skimping on fuel.


  76. TVarmy says:

    @seamer: A great boss would give you the company, and all the paper you want.

  77. Greeper says:

    I was a labor lawyer for 12 years, and this is page one of the union playbook….go to the press and scare consumers. I dont know if its true or not , but I seriously doubt it. What does an airline have to gain by flying low on fuel? It sounds suspiciously like Union BS to me.

  78. XTC46 says:

    @jjason82: more fuel = more weight. More weight = less fuel efficiency. Like in a car. if you were to fill up your tank and then drive in a straight line you would travel a shorter distance than if you filled it 1/4 of the way 4 times. Of course you spend more time doing this.

  79. Arcology says:

    I am an airline pilot.

    As stated before we are required by law to carry enough fuel to reach a destination and an alternate plus 45 minutes. We also carry contingency fuel if in our judgment the situation will require more.

    Even before considering the high price of fuel these calculations need to be carefully considered. Carrying more fuel means we won’t have to worry about coming close to running out, but we’ll also run into structural limitations on the airplane. For example “topping off” the tanks on a short flight means we won’t burn enough fuel to be under our landing weight. Therefore we’d have to circle or take a longer route just to be able to land. Or we could leave behind passengers and baggage to alleviate the weight issue; however, that’s not great customer service. Considering the cost of fuel we do try to fly in ways that conserve how much we burn. On the ground it is now common for airplanes to taxi with only one engine running. In the air we try to fly higher (where we burn less fuel), plan descents to be more fuel efficient, and get “shortcuts” that allow us to fly a shorter distance slower. My company culture strongly encourages these techniques.

    That being said there is nothing to be gained by not loading enough fuel. Like a previous poster said our computers will alert us of the situation well before getting close to our destination. If it even came into question about being able to safely land with reserve fuel we would plan a fuel stop. Again this would cause a delay, and poor customer service, but if it has to be done it will be done, but this cost the airline way more than allowing pilots to load a proper amount of fuel to begin with.

    At my airline I’ll never be questioned for declaring an emergency.

    If there is a disagreement between pilots and dispatchers the more conservative side wins. Period.

    Furthermore, I’m sitting right there with my passengers, and I want to get home to my family. I don’t know of a single pilot that would ever leave the gate without enough fuel because of “pressure” from the company. I assure you that will never happen on my plane.

  80. Azagthoth says:

    I very much hope that somebody, somewhere, is taking this seriously.

  81. ravana says:

    I had a flight diverted from Houston to New Orleans for refueling last year, because it was quicker/safer to fly to NO, refuel and come back and land in Houston than wait and circle.

  82. Wormfather is Wormfather says:

    @Sudonum: Friction is a motha fucka

  83. SinisterMatt says:

    @nsv: @MorrisseyTheCat:

    I see. I must have missed that post. Thanks for the clarification.


  84. tasselhoff76 says:

    Ok, having just recently been on a flight that almost ran out of fuel, I have to disagree with everyone here that thinks this is a great idea. Because all of the calculations truly cannot take into account bad weather and airports that close. It was one of the scariest trips almost everyone on that plane had been on. Even the guy in front of me who had been a pilot for 30 years was a little shocked.

    I understand the saving of fuel to increase profits, but I think the bottom line is that airlines need to increase fares and stop nickel and diming.

  85. So the Grocery Shrink Ray has now hit the airlines?