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Small measures yield big savings in the skies

With 2,500 flights each day, cutting back on the nearly 3 billion gallons of jet fuel American Airlines consumes each year has become an obsession at the nation's biggest airline.

With competitors in bankruptcy, the message to employees is simple.

"It's your efforts that are going to save American Airlines and turn us to profitability," says Capt. Steve Chealander, manager of Flight Ops Efficiency.

And littlethings add up: Ordering pilots to taxi to the gate on one engine, not two, yields $4 million in annual savings.

They've also removed unused food galleys to lessen the weight, and asked passengers to lower their window shades to help keep planes cool and cut back on air conditioning.

And they've cut by half the amount of water carried on board for making coffee and flushing toilets — essentially dead weight.

All of the excess water that American took off its planes last year would have filled 50 Olympic swimming pools. That alone saved the airline some $3 million in fuel charges.

At American's maintenance base in Tulsa, Okla., they're now taking apart the wings on 757s and adding 8-foot wingletsto the tips to reduce drag.

"By installing the winglets on 20 of our international 757s, we will save 3 million gallons of fuel a year," says Carmine Romano, the vice president in charge at the maintenance base.

Soon, every 737 in the fleet will also get winglets.

In Dallas, dispatchers use new computer models to route flights into the most favorable winds. That's critical, since half of American's fleet consists of older gas-guzzling MD-80s.

"What we're attempting to do here is to use the least amount of fuel to get from point A to point B," says dispatcher Frank Pascale.

And it's working. Despite higher fuel prices, American cut 84 million gallons of jet fuel and saved $161 million last year. This year it hopes to save even more.

"This is about saving the company — absolutely," says Romano.

It may not only save the company, it may help American turn a profit this year.