AMC looks to save $500 million by reducing fuel, energy consumption.
Jan. 19, 2011—Air Mobility Command's Energy Efficiency Office at Scott AFB, Ill., intends to help the command save $500 million over the next five fiscal years by reducing fuel and energy consumption, and it's using the commercial aviation industry as its success model.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates highlighted that goal earlier this month when discussing projected savings across the Defense Department based on the Pentagon-wide initiative that he launched last spring to shed excess overhead.
The push for efficiencies is not new for the Energy Efficiency Office, which stood up in 2008, but Gates' initiative has reinvigorated the "impetus and drive" behind it, according to AMC officials.
The Air Force is by far the largest consumer of fuel in the US military. AMC, which consumes about 477 million gallons of fuel annually (not including fuel expended in Iraq and Afghanistan), accounts for nearly 40 percent of the service's fuel use, Air Force Secretary Michael Donley said last week during an Air Force Association-sponsored event in Arlington, Va.
AMC already has saved $83 million in fuel costs since October 2008 by focusing on planning, policy, modernized systems, science and technology, and maintenance, but officials acknowledge there is still plenty of room for improvement.
When the energy office stood up, it brought in two Air Force Reserve pilots who also flew for commercial airlines to highlight the airlines' business models and help DOD figure out a way to incorporate similar savings into its tactics, techniques, and procedures, said Col. Bobby Fowler, chief of the Energy Efficiency Office, in an interview with the Daily Report at Scott.
It quickly became clear that the Air Force needed to reduce weight on its airplanes, fly more efficiently, and plan better.
"What we do now, we are about four generations behind what the airlines have done historically in their flight planning and flying optimization," Fowler said.
One effort underway is known as "precision loading," or the ability to maximize available space on mobility aircraft. The commercial airlines are a bottom-line business and learned that even the smallest detail, such as changing out the paper used in its magazines, can net a big savings.
The Air Force has taken notice and is loading less onto its airplanes. For example, tankers used to always carry three life rafts and parachutes on every mission, but AMC has started pulling one life raft and most, if not all, parachutes off tanker missions unless they're deemed necessary, Fowler said.
"If we can reduce the weight, then we can reduce the cost to carry those things. It costs anywhere, depending on the platform, about three [percent] to five percent of the fuel you have in your airplanes to carry something," he said. So, a 100-pound box could cost anywhere from three to five pounds of fuel per hour to carry it aboard. "The weight reductions alone, so far, have saved almost $8 million in the past two years," he noted.
AMC also launched a web-based fuel tracker shortly after the energy efficiency office stood up. The idea was modeled after a communication system used by the commercial airlines that allows them to adjust the amount of fuel loaded on an aircraft 15 minutes prior to departure based on current weather conditions, number of passengers, and the amount of luggage on board. That's a significant improvement over the Air Force practice of refueling up to six hours before a sortie.
"We didn't have the ability to do that yet. If we put on 1,000 extra pounds of gas because we think we are going to have a heavy airplane, we have to carry that cost," Fowler said. He continued, "The airlines will actually be within 200 to 300 pounds of what they need per sortie for their fuel loads. We are working to get to that accuracy, but we are a ways away."
The service has been tracking similar data for the last two years and has recently gathered enough information to start analyzing the figures. The goal by the end of the calendar year is to be at a 95 percent tracking rate—up from approximately 80 percent now, Fowler said.
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