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GE's recently launched Flight Efficiency Services will bring airlines to new heights as it helps them improve operations and save fuel.
/ Source: MSNBC TV

GE's recently launched Flight Efficiency Services will bring airlines to new heights as it helps them improve operations and save fuel.

The single biggest obstacle to running a profitable airline is the cost of jet fuel.

U.S. carriers spend more than a third of their operating budgets on fuel–$50 billion in 2012. Every penny increase in the price per gallon costs the industry $180 million annually.

Unlike cars, ships, and other means of transportation, planes can’t tap alternative sources of energy like natural gas and electricity. With profit margins running at a mere two percent of operating expenses, flying more fuel efficient planes is often the ticket to profit. 

“The good news is that there are always better ways to operate and save fuel,” said Giovanni Spitale, general manager at GE’s Flight Efficiency Services (FES) business, launched to help airlines improve operations and save fuel.

“With the combination of historical and current information, we can make optimized decisions about flight plans and fuel load,” Spitale said. 

 “Planes don’t have to carry all that extra fuel weight if they don’t need it. But you have to present the pilot with enough information to make that decision based on science and good data. He ultimately carries the responsibility for the plane.”

FES engineers have built a new big data system that can gather and analyze real-time data generated by aircraft, crunch historical information about flight plans and fuel loads, digest internal policies and procedures, and combine it with airspace maps obtained from aviation authorities.

“We have the data science expertise to tease out the relevant information,” Spitale said. “But we also build jet engines and understand the physical aspect of aviation. We can scale the two and help improve fuel management, navigation, flight analytics, and fleet synchronization.”

Spitale said the system can also help fine-tune internal policies. An airline can instruct pilots to reduce gas-guzzling take-off thrusts at 1,500 feet.

“We can measure when and where that’s appropriate, and whether pilots are following the plan,” he said.

GE has already been working with Brazil’s GOL Airlines on reducing annual fuel costs by as much as two percent, or $90 million over the next five years, and airlines like Taiwan’s EVA Airways and Garuda Indonesia have signed up to use FES to manage fuel. GE is also helping and aviation authorities [sg1] ease air traffic congestion.

FES was among the released by GE at the Minds and Machines summit in Chicago last month. “Very small changes drive very high outcomes for our customers,” GE Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt said at the summit. “This is the future of our service business.”