Magazine article National Defense

Air Force Making Headway on Fuel Efficiency Goals

Magazine article National Defense

Air Force Making Headway on Fuel Efficiency Goals

Article excerpt

The Air Force is stuck between a rock and a hard place. The service requires massive amounts of fuel to power its aircraft, but in a budget crunch, officials know they must curb consumption in order to save money and be less susceptible to a volatile oil market.

Taking lessons from the commercial sector, the Air Force is focusing on fuel-saving practices such as simulator-based training, removing excess weight from planes and implementing new flight techniques. The effort his a major milestone earlier this year, when officials announced it had met its goal to reduce aviation fuel usage by 10 percent before 2015.

The largest single consumer of energy in the federal government, the Air Force in 2012 spent $9 billion on its power bill, 85 percent of which went toward aviation fuel. The service spends almost as much on fuel as it does on space activities like missile warning, communications satellites and space launch, said Acting Under Secretary of the Air Force Jamie M. Morin.

The Air Force set a baseline rate of fuel consumption in 2006, when it first established its 10 percent reduction goal. If the service still consumed fuel at that baseline rate, it would have paid $1.5 billion more in 2012, Morin said in a March briefing to reporters.

"A billion and a half [dollars] would have funded, for 2012, our full flying-hour program for all of our active duty bombers and attack aircraft," he said. "This is real money that we did not have to expend on fuel. That's especially important, given the volatility in the fuel market in recent years. Exposing ourselves to that much volatility is a risk for us."

The Air Force has netted millions in savings over the last several years from better fuel efficiency, Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, commander of Air Mobility Command, told reporters. in April.

Since meeting its 10 percent fuel reduction goal, the Air Force has kicked off a new program that focuses on overall efficiency rather than meeting a numerical target. The strategy centers on reducing demand, diversifying its energy sources and investing in new technologies that save fuel.

"We know we may not be able to control exactly how much we fly, but we can control substantially how much fuel we use for each amount of flying we do," Morin said.

The service used over 2 billion gallons of JP-8 jet fuel in fiscal year 2012 at $3.73 a gallon, according to mobility command officials.

"From 2001 to 2012, the price of jet fuel has gone up almost fourfold. So, we have looked at that as one of those things that we can't control, but we can control how efficient we are with the fuel we can buy," said Selva.

Setting a goal to cut back flights would be impractical for the combat fleet, which could be called to fly missions around the world at any time, Morin said. But the Air Force is looking to scale back gas usage by training its fighter pilots with fewer flights and more time on simulators.

"There is no substitute in training a fighter pilot for experiencing the live gravitational forces and the kick of an afterburner and all of those things, but there are parts of the training regime for those pilots and crew members that can and are better done in ground-based simulators," he said. "So over the last couple of years, especially the Air Combat Command has done a very rigorous review of their training syllabus."

For the mobility fleet--which is responsible for moving cargo and passengers, conducting medical evacuations and mid-air refueling--the Air Force is looking to the private sector for ideas on how to cut down on gas.

The service has worked on optimizing its routes and flight plans, benefiting from the experience of Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard pilots who have also worked for commercial airlines, Morin said.

"Shave a few knots of speed off your flight because your wind situation is different, and you're reducing your fuel burn," he said. …

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