SEPTEMBER 11, 2022
Fuel is one of the highest costs for airlines, accounting for 20-40% of expenditure depending on price and region. But how much fuel does each flight and aircraft type require? Let’s take a look.
How much fuel do aircraft need?
Every plane is different and therefore requires a different amount of fuel to fly. Apart from the size and efficiency of the aircraft itself, other factors affecting fuel use include sector length, taxi time, cargo weight, weather, jet stream direction, and more.
To further complicate matters, aircraft don’t fill up their tanks to the maximum unless they are stretched to a range limit. After all, a plane also needs to burn fuel to transport the remaining fuel in its tanks, so the less surplus, the better.
Some airlines choose to fill up enough fuel to make 1.5 trips and simply refuel the plane on its return journey. However, refueling a plane is a complex process and delays turnarounds, especially a full tank top-up.
How much does fuel cost?
Naturally, aviation fuel is somewhat different from what you use in a gas car (although it’s remarkably close to diesel). This means that prices vary less than at a gas station, and there is less competition at the pump.
But that still doesn’t answer the question of how much fuel costs per aircraft per flight. Here are some example destinations put together by The Points Guy of how much airlines spent on fuel on average in 2019:
- New York JFK Airport to London Heathrow (LHR) – $27,270
- JFK to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) – $10,757 (5,325 gallons)
- LAX to Tokyo Narita (NRT) – $19,190 (9,500 gallons)
- Chicago O’Hare International (ORD) to Mami Airport (MIA) – $4,747 (2,350 gallons)
- MIA to ORD – $7,201 (3,565 gallons)
Prices in focus
As you may have guessed, the prices above are constantly in flux, depending on market conditions. While 2020-21 saw low prices due to the pandemic, this has swung the other way in 2022. Notably, many airlines use fuel hedging as a way to protect against sudden market swings, a tactic that has paid off in recent months but cost many dearly in the early days of the pandemic.
All of this has seen airline executives sounding the alarm over rising fuel prices, saying that passengers should expect higher fares in response. This comes as carriers in Europe, North America, and Australia scramble to reach pre-COVID staffing levels despite travel demand already meeting (and even exceeding) this pace. While car users may only need to worry about fuel once a week or so, for airlines, this is a daily affair.