In the airline business one element dwarfs all others when it comes to environmental and sustainability issues. It is, of course, fuel. According to Trevor Didcock, CIO of easyJet, "the company spends over a billion pounds a year on aviation fuel. Every one per cent saving is worth ten million pounds to us."
From his past experience with motoring organisation the AA Didcock knows that fuel saving costs, even for large fleets, would be in the £200k to £500k range. As he says, "These are good projects, but the opportunity is nowhere as big as it is in airlines."
Trevor Didcock, currently heads the CIO UK CIO 100 listing of the most transformative 100 CIOs in the UK. The panel of judges of were impressed with both easyJet and Didcock's understanding of the role technology plays in transforming an organisation yet operating from a comparitively low budget.
By outsourcing the datacentre operations to environmentally-responsible Savvis, Didcock is better able to concentrate his efforts on the big wins for easyJet.
Every plane has an ACARS system on board that sends operating data back into the easyJet network and thence to OSyS which, according to Didcock, " is an attractive fuel reporting application and, since I joined easyJet, we've pushed the accuracy of data going into it from 86 to 96 per cent."
The main opportunities to save fuel focus on when the aircraft engines are started, how they're used for taxiing and how the aircraft is trimmed for landing. Some of these have environmental impacts beyond just the emissions from burning kerosene.
For example, the company used to inject a sense of urgency in its cabin crew and passengers by starting the engines early, prior to departure. The aim was to minimise the risk of missing the take-off slot. Now engines are started at the last possible moment, thus reducing fuel use, noise and emissions. And, as Didcock notes, "there's a very happy correlation between cost and environmental considerations."
Planes used to taxi using two engines, the modern Airbus design lends itself well to taxiing on a single engine. This represents a considerable fuel saving both prior to take-off and after landing.
A third measure relates to the flap position when coming into land. Get that right and you can fly in under minimal power... A reduction of landing speed also means less use of the fuel-gobbling reverse thrust.
Until earlier this year, Didcock was both CIO and head of the "Turn Europe Orange" transformation programme. Part of this was the fuel project and its reporting. Any activity to reduce use of fuel was publicised. Other reduction measures included regular cleaning inside the turbines to improve the air flow and make them run more efficiently. Another was the realisation that short haul flights don't need full tanks of potable water. They are now filled to 60 per cent. With 210 aircraft flying on average eleven hours a day, measures like these cut the fuel burnt and reduce annual costs by millions of pounds.
As new planes come into service in 2013, they will be fitted with lighter seats. These not only reduce fuel costs again but, because they have thinner backs, they provide more leg room, better support and more comfort. In case you were wondering, it doesn't make commercial (or, probably, environmental) sense to replace the seating in existing aircraft.
While fuel is front and centre of the sustainability aspects of easyJet's operations, other elements are important too. Most airlines operate a hub and spoke crew model with the majority of staff employed at the hub. EasyJet actually bases its people in 22 locations across six countries. By employing people in this way, it helps to build brand awareness locally and contributes more to the local economy. These staff are subject to local terms and conditions, even though it makes rostering and payroll more complicated. When Didcock joined easyJet, more than 50 per cent of revenue came from the UK. Now it's 60 per cent from outside the UK.
Although this has little to do with ICT or the CIO's job, Ian Davies, head of engineering and maintenance, jointly won the Aviator of the Year award for his contribution to the AVOID volcanic ash detector. He worked with Dr. Fred Prata from the Norwegian Institute for Air Research. According to the citation, "It can enable continued air traffic in the event of volcano eruption." When you think of the huge disruption caused by the Icelandic volcano in 2010, many airlines are likely to be incorporating these devices into their planes' wings.
Finally we can't leave a growing fuel-burning airline, even one as efficient as easyJet, without looking at carbon allowances. Last year the company joined the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) which gives tradeable allowances to airlines. These are surrendered according to the year's emissions. Remaining credits can be saved for future years or traded on the open market. EasyJet uses its treasury/trading systems to hedge its allowances the same way it does with jet fuel and currencies.
Although easyJet’s business model delivers an easy customer experience for those that fly with the airline and portrays itself to the outside world as an essentially simple business, this facade hides significant complexity. And, much of that complexity is now managed through the good offices of the CIO.
About the author:
David Tebbutt (www.tebbo.com) is a writer specialising in ICT and environmental matters.
CIO Profile: EasyJet's Trevor Didcock on his IT strategy