American Airlines – Part II – Save The Planet & Save Money

(For Disclosure: American Airlines Granted Me Access To The Flights & Facilities Of My Choosing Beyond What ‘The General Public’ Would Be Allowed Or Offered. AA & Its Parent Company AMR Have No Input Into What I Am Writing)


When an airline is in financial crisis and in bankruptcy the shift of views on the company turn to its fleet, labour, assets and products directly facing passengers.  Behind the scenes an airline has many moving parts that make up the whole, and these moving parts can cost or save the airline millions of dollars annually.


American Airlines, the last of the big U.S. legacy airlines to enter bankruptcy, has been publicly in significant financial distress for years, but behind the scenes the airline has been making changes to reduce costs and begin generating a return on investment through environmentally friend initiatives.  While every airline strives to be environmentally friendly, in a number of ways American Airlines appears to have found a better financial plan for saving money while they save the planet than their primary competitors.


American Airlines, like its competitors, have begin installing winglets on its Boeing 737-800, 757-200 and 767-300 aircraft, reducing its fuel consumption by 40,000,000 gallons of fuel per year; begin using ground power units instead of auxiliary power units at the gate to save 3,100,000 gallons of fuel annually, and moved to single engine taxing to save 2.8 million gallons of fuel annual, for a savings of 950,000,000 pounds of CO2 emissions annually … other airlines have adopted these cost savings and CO2 saving …  however American Airlines has taken further steps on a more consistent basis than its rivals that tend to go unnoticed.


The largest expense for any airline is fuel. Fuel is not only expensive, its costs are not stable. Every company and industry that is dependant on fuel strives to reduce costs and consumption, and what escapes the view of passengers and the public view are the creative ways an airline struggling to survive can reduce is fuel spending and in the process make the carrier more environmentally friendly.


At major airports the airline has largely ceased moving aircraft between maintenance hangers and terminals, as well as between terminals, by taxing the aircraft. Rather than start an aircraft’s engines and taxi it, burning fuel, aircraft are now repositioned via Goldhofer AST high-speed towbarless tractors that hydraulically lift the aircraft.  While this seems mundane, the use of the high-speed tractors save more than 4,000,000 gallons of fuel annually and reduced the airline’s CO2 emissions by 90,000,000 pounds.


The airline also began looking inward to its front line for suggestions on ways to reduce the weight of aircraft.  Rather than turn to external consulting firms, an inward approach to saving money and driving a return on investment while being environmentally sound allowed for the airline to place its trust in its employees, even as labour relations were strained.  The end result is a fuel savings of more than 6,000,000 gallons of fuel.


Some of the weight reduction initiatives that American Airlines implemented from internal suggestions include replacing the cargo liners within Boeing 757 and MD-80 aircraft with lighter materials, saving 1,400,000 gallons of fuel annually; calculating the amount of potable water on board a flight rather that filling the tanks to save 2,400,000 gallons of fuel annually; stripping aircraft of equipment no longer in use, such as magazine racks, logo lights, shaver outlets, sky phones, etc, saving more than 1,000,000 gallons of fuel annually; and upgrading 19,000 catering carts to newer models that reduce the overall weight of the aircraft by 124 pounds, saving 1,800,000 gallons of fuel and 38,000,000 pounds of CO2 emissions annually.


Other avenues the airline has moved forward in, to build on environmental sustainability while building sound financial practices, have been created by looking at the overlooked, determining what can be recycled or repurposed.


In the past two years American Airline’s Cargo began recycling the shrink-wrap sealing pallets and ULD containers, the end result was more than 100,000lbs of shrink-wrap being recycled rather than disposed of.   Recycling shrink wrap isn’t creative, it is just good business … however sometimes good business is creative … at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport the airline now donates used baggage cart tarps to a small local messenger bag company, Defy Bags, that are turned into hand made messenger bags, created only from recycled materials.    In the airline’s arrangement, its own desire to be more environmentally friendly has allowed another company that focused on sustainability to be more sustainable.


One of the more unusual ways American Airlines has managed to save money while protecting the environment is how the airline’s Dallas Fort Worth International Airport’s Airport Services Team began handling unused U.S. Customs and Immigrations landing cards. The airport now has a system for recovering unused landing cards and ferrying them back to the origin station for use on future flights, saving 20,000lbs of paper products from going to landfills annually and saving the printing and distribution of additional landing cards.   As DFW’s program for recovering unused landing cards has proven to not only be ‘green’ but also be financially sound, it is being rolled out at the airline’s other hubs in the United States.


Lastly … how can reducing passenger on-board options be a sound decision? How about changing passenger decaf coffee selections to a single type of coffee allowing for the reduction of excess aircraft weight, resulting in lower carbon emissions and reducing fuel consumption.



Other airlines are changing their operations to have their environmental decisions be fiscally sound … but the level at which American Airlines is taking its initiates, largely internally, is moving the company ahead to make decisions that are good for the environment and good for their coffers.


Happy Flying!





  1. Fish: I have noticed a landing behavior that seems unique to AA: they tend to not use thrust reversers, but rely on brakes more than in the past. On other airlines, reversers seem the norm, but on AA, you never feel them being used, instead there seems to be much more braking. Do you have any info on this as a fuel savings idea, or is this just me?

  2. Wait…the airline has to pay for the Customs landing cards? I always assumed that they were provided by the ol’ US of A.

  3. David,

    The way the landing cards are dealt with saves US Taxpayers money, while keeping 20,000lbs of paper out of the recycle pile, which is a waste of perfectly good landing cards.

    Happy Flying!


  4. I’m not too frequent a flyer, but every time I get to the airport I see most airplanes, big or small, at the gate with the APU on, whether they just arrived or are about to leave or anywhere in between, and I always wondered just how much fuel that APU uses and why would it be preferred over (presumably cheaper and greener) ground power. And not in some remote airfields that might or might not have GPU’s, but in big hubs…

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