Vir Cantium

I'm right, you know …

Waste Not Want Not

It’s one of those occasionally quoted QI-style facts that American Airlines once saved $100,000 from its catering budget by serving one less olive in its in-flight meals.

Now, similar nuggets are being born as airlines try to save every drop of fuel in the face of rocketing oil prices.

The New York Times has an article here, running through some of the measures companies are taking to reduce fuel costs. One airline has already saved $1.6m in two months by jet-washing the turbine blades of engines more frequently, removing drag-inducing dirt. Others are flying slightly slower, some are even looking at the number of manuals that pilots have to carry on board. Seats are getting thinner. Introducing lighter drinks trollies will save American Airlines an estimated 1.9m gallons per year. Loading the ‘planes with less water for the toilets (the fresh water tanks apparently often come back half full, and water is over 20% heavier than fuel) will cut the bills by $17,000 for every pound of water saved.

Apart from the remarkable ways which airlines are able to save fuel – ways which before now would have probably provoked negative comments about accountants (or am I just a paranoid bean-counter?) – all this is not being driven by the breast-beating and teeth-gnashing of tree-huggers, but by the good old market (OK, maybe not so good if you’re queuing up at a petrol station right now, but I digress).

In time, the market will also demonstrate peoples’ limits. The news yesterday that forecourt fuel sales had dropped 20% might be getting cave-yearners excited, but analysts believe this is just leisure motor travel being temporarily curtailed. Fuel price elasticity is such that, like many other essentials and staples, we will still have to buy the stuff and drive our cars and trucks, no matter how many shiny new buses appear on the streets or car park space standards are reduced in town planning guidance. So as the oil price climbs, it will reveal the weakness of the theory that people’s use of the motor car (as with so many other perceived modern evils) can be controlled through taxation.

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