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United Airlines Tests New Wingtip Design in Quest to Cut Fuel Consumption

Jet fuel is now well over $3 a gallon, having risen from just 85 cents a gallon in 2000. The surge in fuel costs means that they now account for a third of airline’s costs.

Reducing fuel consumption has become a vital pursuit of airline companies, and therefore the search for ways of improving efficiency has become vital to remaining competitive in the market.

Airlines employ several methods of limiting their fuel consumption whilst taxiing, or waiting at the gate, but the biggest differences will be made with improvements to the design of the engines and the planes themselves.

United Airlines is beginning to test a new wingtip design that could cut fuel consumption by 45,000 gallons a year for each plane.

In order to reduce drag through the air, and thereby massively increase the fuel consumption efficiency of the plane, companies add winglets that extend up from the tips of the wing. United Airlines is testing a new design called the Split Scimitar, which was designed in a joint venture between Boeing and Aviation Partners.

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United Airlines has estimated that the new winglet will help it save $200 million a year after it is installed on its latest Boeing 737-800 and 737-900 models early next year, according to the NY Times.

Ron Baur, the Vice President of Fleet at United Airlines, said that “the Next-Generation 737 Split Scimitar Winglet will provide a natural hedge against rising fuel prices while simultaneously reducing carbon emissions. We appreciate APB’s (Aviation Partners Boeing) focus in helping United become even more fuel efficient.”

Through the reduction in drag that the winglets create, they can reduce fuel consumption by nearly five percent, which when  multiplied by the thousands of flights made each year, and the millions of gallons of fuel used; the savings can mount up to be more than a million dollars per plane in a year.

United Airlines
A United Airline plane featuring the Split Scimitar winglets.

Aviation Partners calculated that this new winglet design reduces drag by 30-40 percent more than their original winglet.

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For what they are, an eight foot-ish solid, technology-free extension of the wing, winglets are surprisingly expensive, costing from $500,000 to more than $2 million depending on the size of the plane. However Capt. Joel Booth, the managing director of operations planning and fuel efficiency at United Airlines, stated that “in an environment where the price of fuel is high, you can pay off a set of winglets in under two years.”

The NY Times reports that the new design and its massive improvements in drag reduction technology have proven popular and are now being installed on the redesigns of Boeing’s and Airbus’s single-aisle best sellers, the Boeing 737 Max, and the Airbus A320.

A research report by AirInsight, noted that “performance improvements of that magnitude get the attention of airlines. A 5 percent improvement in overall operating costs is quite significant.”

By. James Burgess of Oilprice.com



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