A British Airways plane.
Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images
  • Airlines are carrying tons of extra fuel on flights, a practice which lets them avoid paying for fuel in countries where it's more expensive - at the cost of the environment.
  • The practice was revealed by the BBC's "Panorama" show, which received leaked documents showing the practice at British Airways. It is believed to be widespread in the industry.
  • It is bad for the environment because carrying unneeded fuel makes a plane heavier, and ultimately means it emits more carbon products.
  • Documents showed that for the sake of small savings - sometimes barely $50 (R740) on a whole plane's worth of fuel - BA planes were carrying tons of extra fuel.
  • The BBC estimates that the practice produces 18,000 tons of unnecessary carbon dioxide in 2018.
  • British Airways said in response that it will consider changing its process.
  • Go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za for more stories.

Airlines are flying tons of unneeded fuel around the world to achieve often vanishingly small savings by not buying fuel in countries with higher prices, according to a BBC investigation.

The broadcaster detailed a process - known as "fuel tankering" - whereby planes carry much more fuel than they need for a trip. Carrying the fuel makes the plane heavier, which increases its carbon emissions.

Companies do this to avoid buying fuel in places where it costs more, according to the BBC.

However, the cost is thousands of tons in carbon emissions that would otherwise be avoided if the plane refueled more frequently.

According to its "Panorama" program, extra fuel is carried even when the overall saving is very small - citing figures of as little as $52 (R772) saved on an entire plane's worth of fuel.

The BBC investigation focused on British Airways, and claimed that the airline produced an extra 18,000 tons of carbon dioxide in 2018 thanks to the practice, known as "fuel tankering."

The BBC cited internal documents which said that British Airways put as much as six toes of extra fuel on one plane, directed by an algorithm which works out how to optimise savings.

One flight to Italy carried almost three tons of extra fuel, adding 600kg of carbon emissions to save the airline less than £40 (R762).

British Airways told the BBC that other airlines do the same thing. The BBC said it has evidence that EasyJet also does. Business Insider has contacted EasyJet over whether it uses fuel tankering.

Eurocontrol, the body that coordinates air traffic control across Europe, estimated in a June report that airlines save a total £229 million (R3.4 billion) a year through fuel tankering in Europe, at an environmental cost of 901,000 tons of carbon dioxide as a result.

In response to the BBC report, the CEO of British Airway's parent company - the International Airlines Group (IAG) - announced a review.

The Guardian reported that IAG CEO Willie Walsh said: "We continue to do tankering today. We're challenging that, we're asking ourselves whether this is sustainable, and whether we should be pricing in the environmental impact of that."

"Clearly the financial savings incentivise us to do tankering. But maybe that's the wrong thing to do."

British Airways told the BBC that it is a common practice for airlines, and that it mainly did it on short-haul flights "where there are considerable price differences between European airports."

The airline also told the BBC that the extra emissions generated were around 2% of the total extra emissions generated by all airlines that were using fuel tankering in Europe, based on research by Eurocontrol.

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