‘Tankering’ is when an aircraft carries additional fuel for a flight to avoid refuelling (or refulleing too much) when landing at the destination.
The aim is to carry extra fuel from airport A to airport B where fuel is more expensive so that not as much has to be bought from the more expensive destination.
The practice of tankering is purely a cost-saving initiative and the additional fuel is not considered necessary for the purpose of the flight.
The additional fuel carried when undertaking a ‘tankering’ flight increases the total weight of the aircraft, and therefore increases its fuel consumption, resulting in additional CO2 emissions. These CO2 emissions are extensive and completely unecessary.
Fuel costs vary quite significantly across European destinations, with some airports offering fuel as much as 30% cheaper. This can result in significant savings for the airlines, where fuel costs account for up to 25% of their operating expenses.
However at the other end of the scale, many airlines will tanker fuel even if the total savings are as low as £30.
This could mean a flight taking round-trip fuel could emit over 1000kg of CO2, just in the pursuit of saving £30.
Industry research has shown that within the EU approximately 15% of flights are tankering fuel to their destinations. After extrapolating these figures it can be shown that over 286,000 tonnes of additional fuel is burnt each year, producing just under 1 million tonnes of CO2.
It should be noted that tankering fuel does not affect the safety of a flight, nor is it a regulatory requirement, it exists solely to take advantage of price differences.
Aviation is a huge competitive market, with airlines doing everything in their power to minimise their operating costs to keep their ticket prices as low as possible. Reducing costs is a major challenge for the industry but they’re also under increasing pressure to reduce their environmental footprint.
If any individual airline were to stop tankering fuel tomorrow, they would immediately give all their competitors a commercial advantage. As this is a problem endemic throughout the industry, the only way it can be stopped is through regulation of all airlines at once.
Tankering is a hugely damaging practice to our environment that doesn’t need to be done in order for planes to fly and airlines to compete.
Some 50-100 years ago it was completely normal for big factories to dump the majority of their waste into the local rivers. They could have disposed of their waste differently but that would have cost them money and effort. Since then as a society we have grown appalled by such practices and globally there are a number of regulations in place to limit the damage.
Tankering is the aviation industry’s waste dumping. Increasing consumer awareness and demanding that airlines change their policies could have a significant influence on how much excess co2 we can save.