R-Squared Energy Blog

Pure Energy

Three Gallons Per Mile

Often when I am flying, I think about the amount of fuel that the airplane is burning. Then when I am off the plane, I usually forget about it. I have heard mixed opinions on the overall efficiency of airline travel versus automobile travel, but just never got around to investigating the matter myself.

Earlier this month I was on a flight from Hawaii to Dallas, and the pilot started talking about some of the plane’s statistics. Paraphrasing, he said: “Today we will be cruising at an altitude of 38,000 feet in this Boeing 757. This aircraft burns about 3 gallons of fuel per mile, and is carrying 243 passengers.” I thought “Hey, I better write that down and figure out later on what my share of the fuel was.”

The distance from Honolulu to Dallas is 3,800 miles. Thus, per the pilot the fuel consumption should have been approximately 11,400 gallons. In the Wiki link to the Boeing 757 article above, the Boeing 757 specifications state that the plane only holds 11,500 gallons, so I think it is likely that we were really getting a bit better than 1/3rd of a mile per gallon.

Divided by 243 passengers, my share of the fuel is 47 gallons. This much fuel carried me 3,800 miles, so my pro-rated fuel economy is 81 miles per gallon. In all likelihood, as I said it was probably a bit better than that since I doubt we were landing in Dallas with only 100 gallons of fuel in reserve.

Of course it is important to note that while the fuel economy looks pretty good, the miles traveled are very high relative to automotive transportation. I generally travel less than 5,000 miles per year with my car, so if I drive a car that gets 25 miles per gallon it would only take about 16,000 miles on an airplane to equate to an entire year’s consumption in my car. I estimate that I have probably flown 300,000 miles in the past two years (which was one of the main reasons I left my last job).

One other item of interest to me is my prorated cost for fuel. At $2.00/gallon, $94 of my ticket price goes toward purchasing fuel, and every $1.00 increase boosts my pro-rated fuel cost by $47 for that Honolulu to Dallas trip. That’s actually surprising to me, as I would have guessed that it would have been more.

But that’s not really what hurts the airlines when fuel prices go up. I think what usually happens is that fewer people fly, and instead of pro-rating my share of the fuel across 243 passengers it may be prorated across only 180 passengers. In that case my share of the fuel rises to almost $200 when jet fuel rises to $3.00 per gallon – and thus a $1.00/gal rise in the cost of fuel translates into a several hundred dollar per ticket price increase.

November 30, 2009 Posted by | airline industry, airplane transportation, fuel efficiency | 44 Comments

Peak Convenience

In the U.S. (and most of the developed world), people are accustomed to great convenience. We live in climate-controlled homes, wake up each morning, take a hot shower, and then eat a breakfast consisting of foods from halfway around the world. We hop into our cars, adjust the temperature, and head off to work. We fly across the country for a few hundred dollars. We send letters from coast to coast for 42 cents. For us, ‘inconvenience’ occurs when a store is closed on Sunday.

‘Those people’ living in far away places who have to put up with the inconvenience of intermittent power, no heating or cooling, and who have to walk everywhere they go (or ride packed buses/trains) are only images on television. Yet compared to the U.S., much of the rest of the world deals with inconvenience on a daily basis.

But as oil prices have climbed – and have taken almost everything up with them – people are starting to give up some conveniences. According to the American Public Transportation Association, 2007 saw usage of public transportation at a 50-year high. 2008 has seen additional increases in mass transit usage. People are starting to give up the convenience of personal transportation. (For some like me that hate to drive, mass transit isn’t such an inconvenience. If it takes me longer to get to work, I can work on the bus, and I get to let someone else do the driving.)

Some are losing the convenience of air travel:

And you think you’re trying to save gas …

[Dan] Garton [American Airline’s executive vice president of marketing] admits that some current flyers simply will not be able to fly.

“It’s an unfortunate part of this because our country has gotten accustomed to being able to fly somewhere for the weekend,” he said. “Everybody can go see Aunt Millie for her birthday, and some of that may change for some of our customers. Seventy-eight percent of our customers fly once a year. And so some of those people may not be able to fly anymore, because we will raise our prices by hook or by crook.”

Yes, airlines are going to have to raise prices to survive. And the high cost of oil not only takes a bigger cut out of personal transportation budgets, but it drives up the cost of producing food, and the cost of getting the food to the store. For some, growing a garden to help stretch the food budget isn’t necessarily a burden (unless you are 12-years old and would rather play Rock Band on your Xbox than pull weeds in the garden). But it certainly is less convenient than dropping by your local grocery store and finding that your favorite foods are never out of season.

The thought struck me as I got ready for work a couple of days ago that we may have reached ‘peak convenience’ as a result of high oil prices, which I believe are here to stay. Most people are going to find that certain conveniences that we have taken for granted during the age of cheap oil are less attainable (i.e., more expensive) than they once were. I can see a future in which something like the morning shower shifts to later in the day, after the solar water heater has had time to heat up the water. Or we have to drop our electrical usage way down at night because our solar output has dropped off. People are definitely going to have to become accustomed to tracking their electricity usage, to avoid a very big surprise at the end of the month. (On the flip side, I think we will continue to make medical and technological advances, so it isn’t as if I think we are headed back to the Stone Age).

Having grown up without great convenience (by Western standards), I don’t think I will have a difficult time adjusting. However, many I know would never consider public transportation. I know people who would circle the Walmart parking lot 10 times before they would walk from a parking spot that isn’t within 50 feet of the front door. The only food they have ever known comes from the supermarket. These are the same people who scream the loudest for the government to do something about rising gas prices. These are also the people who I think will have the most difficult time adjusting to the new reality imposed by high oil prices. Some will sink ever further into debt as they wait in vain for the government to fix the problem.

July 13, 2008 Posted by | airplane transportation, food prices, mass transit, oil prices, Peak Convenience | 21 Comments

A Solar-Powered Airplane

One of the things I have stated repeatedly is that even as I see the world moving to solar power by necessity, we will always need liquid fuels for long-haul transport and airline travel. Turns out I may have been wrong about the airline travel bit:

Solar Impulse will fly only on solar power

The Solar Impulse project has been broken down in stages to allow for adequate testing and technological advancement. The initial planning stages began in 2003. 2007 and 2008 should see the production of a prototype(s) for testing and the first overnight flights. Then larger prototypes will be introduced in 2009-2010 for longer test flights. The final stage should occur in 2010, when the flight around the world is expected to finally be possible.

Yahoo! News provides video coverage:

Solar Plane Ready for Flight

Amazing. This shifted my paradigm on air travel, which to date has always been that it would require liquid fuels. Of course as is normally the case with new technology, there are caveats. Right now it is still at the simulator stage, and while the stated intent is to eventually be able to fly 300 passengers, per the video this will require “new technologies.” A very interesting story, regardless.

May 27, 2008 Posted by | airplane transportation, solar power | Comments Off on A Solar-Powered Airplane

A Solar-Powered Airplane

One of the things I have stated repeatedly is that even as I see the world moving to solar power by necessity, we will always need liquid fuels for long-haul transport and airline travel. Turns out I may have been wrong about the airline travel bit:

Solar Impulse will fly only on solar power

The Solar Impulse project has been broken down in stages to allow for adequate testing and technological advancement. The initial planning stages began in 2003. 2007 and 2008 should see the production of a prototype(s) for testing and the first overnight flights. Then larger prototypes will be introduced in 2009-2010 for longer test flights. The final stage should occur in 2010, when the flight around the world is expected to finally be possible.

Yahoo! News provides video coverage:

Solar Plane Ready for Flight

Amazing. This shifted my paradigm on air travel, which to date has always been that it would require liquid fuels. Of course as is normally the case with new technology, there are caveats. Right now it is still at the simulator stage, and while the stated intent is to eventually be able to fly 300 passengers, per the video this will require “new technologies.” A very interesting story, regardless.

May 27, 2008 Posted by | airplane transportation, solar power | 22 Comments

A Solar-Powered Airplane

One of the things I have stated repeatedly is that even as I see the world moving to solar power by necessity, we will always need liquid fuels for long-haul transport and airline travel. Turns out I may have been wrong about the airline travel bit:

Solar Impulse will fly only on solar power

The Solar Impulse project has been broken down in stages to allow for adequate testing and technological advancement. The initial planning stages began in 2003. 2007 and 2008 should see the production of a prototype(s) for testing and the first overnight flights. Then larger prototypes will be introduced in 2009-2010 for longer test flights. The final stage should occur in 2010, when the flight around the world is expected to finally be possible.

Yahoo! News provides video coverage:

Solar Plane Ready for Flight

Amazing. This shifted my paradigm on air travel, which to date has always been that it would require liquid fuels. Of course as is normally the case with new technology, there are caveats. Right now it is still at the simulator stage, and while the stated intent is to eventually be able to fly 300 passengers, per the video this will require “new technologies.” A very interesting story, regardless.

May 27, 2008 Posted by | airplane transportation, solar power | 22 Comments