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Fuel efficiency among top priorities in AMC's energy conservation

  • Published
  • By Laura McAndrews
  • Air Mobility Command Public Affairs
Imagine your frustration when the price of gas goes up 50 cents and it adds $12.50 to the cost of filling up your 25-gallon tank. Now imagine adding $25,575 to the cost of filling the tank of a C-5 Galaxy that holds 51,150 gallons.

The Air Force is the Department of Defense's largest consumer of fuel, requiring 64 percent in fiscal 2008. Eighty-four percent of that went to aviation fuel and AMC used 52 percent of that aviation fuel share. In fiscal 2008, the bill for all of that fuel totaled $4.6 billion. 

To combat the impact of rising fuel costs, the Air Mobility Command vice commander chartered the Fuel Efficiency Office in October 2008. The purpose of the office is to consolidate and lead implementation of all aviation fuel conservation improvements throughout the mobility air forces, while maximizing operational effectiveness.

"By its very nature, our mission requires a lot of fuel. AMC aircraft fly 66 percent of the missions flown in deployed areas while operating the greatest number of large aircraft in the Air Force," said Col. Kevin Trayer, the AMC Fuel Efficiency Office chief.

Mission requirements
AMC's mission is varied and far-reaching. The command has aircraft around the world every day doing the "heavy lifting" and "air bridge building." There are C-130 Hercules aircraft airdropping loads of up to 42,000 pounds. C-17 Globemaster IIIs and C-5 Galaxies carry all of the Army's air transportable equipment including mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles along with other "outsize" items such as helicopters. 

Air refueling tankers fuel Air Force fighters, bombers and heavy aircraft as well as aircraft from other military services and nations while also carrying passengers and cargo.

Leveraging experience
Another aspect of the Fuel Efficiency Office charter is the tasking to rapidly achieve ability on par with commercial aviation industry leaders to analyze and propose fuel efficiency improvements across mobility air forces. In pursuit of this tasking, the Fuel Efficiency Office staff is actively engaging with industry along several fronts. 

"We're learning," Colonel Trayer said. "For example, we're benchmarking off of what the commercial carriers are doing and leveraging the experience we have that resides in the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve Command."

Commercial airliners have been practicing fuel efficiency for years and employ many people who work within AMC as guardsmen or reservists, the colonel said. Those mobility air force members are sharing their knowledge to create sustained improvements in AMC's fuel efficiency.

"They include not only pilots, but engineers, maintenance and ramp workers as well," said Brig. Gen. David S. Post, the mobilization assistant to the director of air, space and information operations at AMC. General Post is also a captain at the world's second largest airline. "Through them, we're able to tap into that knowledge and use it here."

Gathering data
Accurate fuel consumption data obtained from a single source is critical to establishing baselines and measuring fuel consumption data to accurately track aircraft performance and perform cost analysis.

The Air Force Audit Agency reported in March 2007 that the Air Force did not have an effective method to obtain reliable and consistent aviation fuel consumption data. This condition occurred because the Air Force did not establish standard sources and methods for obtaining fuel data.

While efforts are under way to correct these deficiencies, due to the impact of rising fuel costs and secretary of the Air Force-directed energy conservation goals, the Fuel Efficiency Office staff cannot wait for data collection deficiencies to be corrected prior to implementing fuel conservation efforts.

To that end, the Fuel Efficiency Office created the web-based fuel tracker for tracking aviation fuel usage across mobility air forces.

"During a mission, aircrew gathers critical bits of information regarding fuel planning and execution that's put into the tracker after the mission," Colonel Trayer said. "We've already used the data to improve the accuracy of fuel loads in computer flight plans distributed to aircrew from the TACC and many commanders are using reports derived from the data to improve fuel efficiency at the unit level."

With the data the Fuel Efficiency Office receives from the tracker, they are able to examine all aspects of the mobility air forces flying operations from a planning, policy and execution standpoint; all with the end goal of greater fuel efficiency.

One of the metrics the web based fuel tracker allows the Fuel Efficiency Office to track is the number of flights that depart with greater than the planned fuel load, known as departure overfuels. By analyzing the data available, the Fuel Efficiency Office staff has determined that on any given day more than 30 percent of mobility air forces' flights depart with an average 12,000 pounds of extra fuel. This costs the Air Force more than $13 million annually in fuel burned just to carry this extra fuel.

Analysis of aircrew reasons for carrying excess fuel provided the Fuel Efficiency Office with valuable insight. Aircrews are not confident the fuel loads being provided to them by the flight planning system are accurate; therefore, they are loading addition fuel in many cases to ensure mission effectiveness.

Further data analysis led the Fuel Efficiency Office staff to recommend several policy changes that will become effective in the next few months to ensure the proper amount of fuel is loaded on every flight. By using a metrics based approach through data from the fuel tracker the Fuel Efficiency Office is hoping to better educate crews in order to obtain more confidence in the flight planning system so crews will not feel the need to arbitrarily add fuel.

"The goal is to create and sustain a culture where fuel efficiency is a consideration in all we do," Colonel Trayer said.

Culture change through education
"We have to carefully balance effectiveness with efficiency," Colonel Trayer said. "We're educating crews so they're comfortable (with planned fuel loads), because if they're uncomfortable, they're not going to do what's asked of them."

General Post said, "It's just a matter of changing culture, changing attitudes, and building trust in the system. As you educate people they will see the benefits of it and become more confident in the tools we provide them."

Other areas AMC is extracting more fuel efficiency include increasing the use of flight simulators for crew training and proficiency, optimizing cargo loads, decreasing empty legs, optimizing aircraft routing through better diplomatic clearances, and reducing aircraft weight. With aircraft weight, for example, something as small as removing excess water bottles and trashcans from an aircraft can save fuel and money. 

For every 1 pound removed from every aircraft in AMC's fleet, the command saves $8,828 a year, said Lt. Col. Eric Lepchenske, the AMC fuel efficiency officer. The savings looked at as a "cost avoidance," translates into funds that can be put to use elsewhere.

To date AMC has implemented initiatives with projected yearly fuel usage reductions of 43.5 million gallons of fuel at a cost avoidance of $92.7 million. Further initiatives that have been identified, but not yet implemented are an additional 55 million gallons reduction at a cost avoidance of $117.2 million, for a total yearly reduction of 98.5 million gallons at a cost avoidance of $209.9 million.

The ultimate goal, Colonel Trayer said, is to maximize efficiency, lower costs and save fuel. He and General Post said the command's ideas and practices will reduce aviation fuel usage in the long haul.

"Bottom line, every pound -- whether its fuel, cargo, or equipment -- should have a purpose," Colonel Trayer said.