We have all been sat in the airport terminal watching the fuel truck pull up to the airplane and begin refueling. I know I have always wondered just how much fuel do our planes hold. It’s got to be a lot, especially when flying over the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans!
The world’s largest commercial airplane the Antanov AN-225 can carry over 98,000Gal/375,000 liters of fuel compared to a Beechcraft 1900D commuter airplane which carries 665Gal/2,520 liters. Aircraft must carry enough fuel to taxi, climb, cruise, descent, and mutliple reserves.
There is a lot more to just “Fillin’ her up!” when it comes to airplane fuel. Fuel not only costs a lot but also weighs a lot and the heavier the aircraft is the more fuel is burned to lift that weight into the air.
To find out more about exactly how much fuel airplanes carry read on…
Typical Airplane Fuel Capacities
Here are some of the world’s most popular commercial aircraft and their maximum fuel capacity. Not all of these aircraft will be able to run with full fuel and maximum cargo. Fuel is the variable that pilots can use to keep the aircraft under its maximum gross takeoff weight:
|Boeing 787-10 ‘Dreamliner’||33,384||126,372||101,456||223,673|
|Boeing 737 Max||6,853||25,940||20,752||45,915|
|Airbus A300 ‘Beluga’||6,303||23,860||19,088||42,230|
|Dassault Falcon 6X||5,042||19,156||15,325||33,786|
|Cessna Citation V||861||3,272||2,618||5,771|
Types of Airplane Fuel Requirements
Fuel must be calculated for every flight by either the pilot or a flight planner employed by the airline or aviation company. There are many variables that need to be taken into account by the planner.
These variables can include:
- Prevailing Wind
- Adverse Weather
- Known Airport Delays
- Predicted Airport Delays
- Airspace Restrictions
- Aircraft Performance
- Air Temperature
- Routing Altitude
- and many more…
To accommodate for all of these variables airlines have a good idea of how much fuel is used on a particular routing based on their huge data collection of previous flights and experience. To ensure the airplane lands at its destination with lots of fuel to spare there are several types of fuel loads that need to be added to a commercial flight.
The longer the flight’s duration and the more remote the destination, the more of these fuel loads need to be included before the flight departs:
This is the fuel used before the airplane takes off. It comprises of starting and running the APU (Auxillary Power Unit – Used for the aircraft interior lights, HVAC, and other systems during boarding), starting the engines, and taxiing to the runway. For airports with long taxi routes, this can add soon add up.
A Boeing 747 can use anywhere from 1000-1500Kg of jet fuel taxiing around a large airport!
This is the fuel calculated from takeoff to touch down and is based on the route, weather, weight, and performance of the aircraft. Basically, this is what SHOULD be burned from wheels up to touch down. If the planners have done their calculations right the calculated should match the actual!
During the flight, the pilots are constantly monitoring the flight fuel burn to ensure these numbers stay as closely matched as possible, at least until unforeseen delays get imposed on them by air traffic control!
Those delays caused by forecasted wind direction change, differing route altitude, diversion due to large storm cells or a temporary airport closure, plus a plethora of other reasons can all mean that airplanes begin to get delayed while in the air. To help overcome a situation where an aircraft could begin to get low on fuel an additional amount of fuel is added.
This contingency fuel is recommended to be 5% of the Trip Fuel or 5 minutes of fuel used in a holding pattern over the destination airport at 1,500ft. Depending on the airline, the country the aircraft is flying to, or the pilot, the exact amount in the contingency fuel load can vary.
The main thing to note is that it is there to absorb the unforeseen delays to the planned flight.
If the weather over an airport becomes too poor for the airplane to land, the airport closes, or there is an incident at the destination airport, airplanes can be re-routed to an alternate airport by air traffic control. Each flight is planned to have an alternate airport just in case.
This extra fuel must be enough to climb out from the destination airport, fly the route to the alternate airport, fly the approach, and land. Depending on the location of the alternate airport the diversion could be a matter of an additional 20 minutes or it could be hours if the original destination was an airport on an island in the middle of the ocean.
Final Reserve Fuel
The last resort to keeping the aircraft in the air! This fuel load is planned to be there but never be used, only just in a dire emergency. This fuel should be based on 30 minutes of fuel used in a holding pattern over the destination airport.
For any pilot that does use this fuel an investigation usually follows, not only by the airline but by the FAA too.
Some aircraft, especially those used for cargo flights may need to use fuel as ballast to balance the aircraft during flight. This fuel is not to be used for flight, but to be maintained in certain fuel tanks to help keep the aircraft within in center of gravity limits.
How Much Does it Cost to Fuel an Airplane?
Fueling an aircraft is not cheap. Even a small airplane with a 30 gallon fuel tank can cost from $140 to $150 depending on the fuel type. Very large airplanes like the Airbus A380 or Antanov An-225 will cost over $400,000 to fill to capacity.
To give you some idea of the cost to fill some of the worlds most popular commercial airplanes see the table below:
|Boeing 787-10 ‘Dreamliner’||33,384||126,372||$156,237||€134,363|
|Boeing 737 Max||6,853||25,940||$32,072||€27,581|
|Airbus A300 ‘Beluga’||6,303||23,860||$29,498||€25,368|
|Dassault Falcon 6X||5,042||19,156||$23,596||€20,292|
|Cessna Citation V||861||3,272||$4,029||€3,464|
Fuel is one of the biggest single costs that airlines face every year. The rise and fall of oil prices do end up with the consumer in the cost of their ticket, albeit several months later. Large airlines spend billions of dollars every year just on fuel alone so the cheaper they can purchase it, and the more efficient they can use it, the more profit they will make.
Because of this, airlines use several tactics to try and get their fuel as cheap as possible. They can work deals with the fuel supplier to block purchase fuel at a set price. This gamble can work if the fuel price goes up, but if it goes down they could have saved more.
They can bid on the most fuel-efficient routings to save every gallon they can during flights.
They can even insist their pilot’s taxi only on one engine to save fuel!
All of these tactics can add up and over the year the cost savings can be large for the airline. I know if I had to pay the bill to fill these planes I would be looking to save money at every possible opportunity!
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