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FlightSafety Wichita Cessna Learning Center
FlightSafety Wichita Cessna Learning Center
The monthly news publication for aviation professionals.
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Fuel review: Annual tenders, shopping around and planning are key to cutting fuel costs
After the cost of the aircraft itself, fuel is likely to be the single largest expense of any business aviation operator. So using every opportunity to buy at a cheaper price, or to use less, is vitally important at a time when the industry is under stress.

After the cost of the aircraft itself, fuel is likely to be the single largest expense of any business aviation operator. So using every opportunity to buy at a cheaper price, or to use less, is vitally important at a time when the industry is under stress.

Unfortunately it is also a highly complex marketplace, with different suppliers, agents, regulations, taxation and availability in different countries around Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

In this feature we asked operators and providers to give us the benefit of their experiences.

There is one European business jet operator that has gone to greater lengths than any other to minimise its fuel bill, and which expects to be able to share its success with other operators across the continent in the future.

PrivatAir set up a specialist fuel reselling operation of its own in 2011, under the name PrivatJetFuel. This buys the great majority of the fuel for the company's own charter operations, but that is not the reason for its development; it is intended to be a profitable service delivering lower fuel prices to third-party operators as well. Effectively buying fuel on behalf of a great many business aircraft operators will provide it with the negotiating strength to make sure of the best deals.

PrivatAir previously used a variety of fuel card providers: "In fact, we still do," says vp business aviation Christian Hatje, "as we want to take advantage of all possible opportunities to achieve the best price. But more and more often we find that we use PrivatJetFuel."

PrivatJetFuel is fully owned by PrivatAir, but operates in conjunction with Jet Fleet International which provided the software to make the customer interface and booking system work. JFI for its part channels its fuel enquiries through PrivateJetFuel, but also offers its clients insurance packages.

The role of fuel reseller is not one that Hatje has taken on lightly, but he feels well qualified: "As an operator we understand that low prices, transparency and simple administration are very important," he says.

"There is no entrance fee for operators wanting to buy fuel through us, and no monthly charges. It is a non-exclusive arrangement, so operators are free to take advantage of cheaper deals whenever they find them. It is important that they can still shop around."

Users of the PrivatJetFuel service can log in to the web site, select an airport and see different suppliers and their prices, adjusted according to the size of the uplift. The gallon price and all fees are combined to provide a simple price comparison.

Hatje says that there are now more than 1,200 aircraft using the system, mostly in North America. "It is an easier market to enter in the US," he says, "as there is only one set of tax regulations to deal with."

He expects to be offering European operators access to the system soon: "We are not quite at the level we would like to be on competitiveness, and it is more complicated. For example, there are 30 different suppliers in Turkey alone."

The idea of combining buying power and sharing administration for the benefit of PrivatAir and its charter operating peers is not new. The company was the initial driving force behind the AirClub grouping (as featured on EBAN's front cover last month). Hatje believes that collaborating groups of operators can benefit from economies of scale, while still staying close to their individual customers in a way that is more difficult for operators with global aspirations. "Soon AirClub will have a public web site where customers can confirm prices and availability for charter services and make a direct booking there and then."

PrivatJetFuel does not rule out entering the fuel hedging business at some point in the future, but for the time being is concentrating on building up its purchased volumes. "Eventually the big fuel companies will be coming to us," predicts Hatje.

Some operators choose fuel suppliers after a tendering process. At Fly Comlux, post-holder ground ops Daniele Travaglia says: "We have a pool of fuel suppliers selected each year based on the fuel tender. We are aware that a single fuel supplier cannot be competitive worldwide and that is why we select them region by region, airport by airport.

"During our tender we establish credit rates for more than 300 airports, securing a good deal for the upcoming 12 months. Despite this, we still use fuel card schemes for non-contracted locations, US destinations and back-up solutions. We make sure that our passengers will not be affected for any refuelling problem at departure and consequently we even ask for a fuel release, to be on the safe side."

When it comes to cutting fuel costs, various options are open to the operator, including tankering comp-etitively priced fuel, reducing empty legs and making flights plans as cost-effective as possible. Fly Comlux commercial vp Christophe Lapierre says: "Flight safety is always first priority versus fuel tankering; the captain has full authority for a final decision upon weather conditions and aircraft performances. Never-theless, the crews do tanker subject to the aircraft type; sometimes carrying extra weight affects the fuel burn and is not convenient."

Travaglia adds: "The commercial team is always looking into the cheapest location. For each airport, we have fuel price and fuel index. Fuel index is the best way to compare fuel prices between airports. Historically, we fixed 'Index 100' for Luton; airports below 100 are cheaper and airports above are more expensive." Although it is a company goal to save fuel, Travaglia stresses that there is no compromise on passenger safety or comfort. "Flight crews fly the aircraft gently selecting the proper flight levels, and dispatchers provide all the necessary weather and flight plan information, pre-advising the pilots about weather hazards and possible turbulence areas. Flight crew monitors the fuel during the different flight phases and they coordinate with air traffic control for better routes for the best fuel consumption as well."

Gama Aviation also tenders its worldwide fuel on an annual basis, reveals fuel manager Penny Mullin. It gives a comprehensive list of airports and suppliers at each to crews on a monthly basis, also showing a percentage rate at each location so that crews can make informed decisions on tankering fuel.

These companies report keeping purchasing options open by arranging credit deals directly with the fuel providers as well as taking advantage of fuel card schemes. Overall, it seems that fuel cards come into their own for ad-hoc flights or unknown destinations.

Gama Aviation has credit agreements in place with all of its fuel suppliers, working with the oil companies direct as well as various fuel card companies. Mullin says: "A large benefit to working with the card companies is that where Gama Aviation has never flown before, the card companies often have a reduced rate for fuel available, which saves paying posted airport price (PAP)."

GlobeAir uses major fuel providers such as Air BP or Shell alongside various fuel card schemes, which help in particular in Eastern Europe. Bernhard Fragner, ceo, says: "The greatest benefit is the payment conditions normally available via a fuel card. The biggest issue we experience is the price difference of the various fuel cards or card schemes at one airport – it is not easy to figure out which is available at the best price. Further, all providers apply different fee structures which makes a comparison almost impossible."

A pricing engine continuously uses several parameters to compute a price for a charter request based on many input factors, one of which is the volatile fuel parameter updated weekly. Such a system means that GlobeAir's charter quotes rarely fall short due to fuel price increases, but in such a case it will absorb the costs. Many of our respondents report similar policies, although a quote made far in advance might contain a proviso relating to higher fuel costs (see: To surcharge or not, page 7).

To get the best fuel deal it can, Fragner reports that GlobeAir hires a fuel broker as well as negotiating directly with fuel providers. He adds: "We definitely do tanker as we experience a huge fuel price gap between major and remote airports.

"Our dispatch and flight planners look for the lowest fuel consuming route and climb-descend profile, which will be provided to crew for any flight. Inflight crew try as much as they can to get directs from ATC to save fuel."

Aircraft modifications to further reduce fuel consumption could also be an option. "Winglets for light business jets would definitely bring fuel savings," says Fragner. "I know of a couple of projects in their early stages focusing on technological improvements for entry and light jets to get the benefit of fuel savings."

Amira Air GmbH is expanding its fleet in 2013 with the addition of Challenger and Global Express aircraft, reports chief marketing officer Bernhard Wipfler.

With a fleet of managed aircraft, the company sees it as an obligation to seek out the best price deals with fuel suppliers. "Fuel price optimisation is very important," says Wipfler. "Our dispatchers have all necessary data (fuel index, fuel providers, etc) for all destinations in the internal IT system available and decide according to operational requirements and economic reasons about fuelling. It might absolutely make sense to carry greater weight, and burn a little bit more fuel, to avoid refuelling at very cost-intensive destinations. This is decided on a case-by-case base taking all necessary data into consideration."

Fuel cards, direct agreements and fuel brokers are all utilised in Amira Air's pursuit of a good deal on fuel. "We try to do simply everything at each and every destination to have the best possible benefit available. We avoid empty legs a much as possible. I assume every operator does this these days."

Operating a fuel-efficient Piaggio Avanti helps AirGO Flugservice keep costs down, according to co-founder Daniela Flierl. "AirGO buys fuel through different fuel card schemes," she says. "The only problem with fuel cards can be a pre-arrangement that doesn't work properly meaning a wait for fuel, although this doesn't happen very often. In general it works very well with all providers."

Fuel cost does not have a big impact on the decision on the destination airport as passengers usually ask for a specific airport: "Very often there is no acceptable alternate at lower fuel cost. But in case there is a choice it is not only about fuel cost, we have to compare cost as a function of flight time/landing/handling fees and fuel," says Flierl.

DragonFly is based at Cardiff Airport where it has its own fuel bowser. Howard Palser, ceo, reveals that jet fuel accounts for just over 20 per cent of direct operating expenses and that fuel management had long been regarded as an important factor.

With its own bowser the company is able to negotiate bulk supplies of Jet A1 from providers and fuels its aircraft at base at optimum cost. "Fuel management is just one component of flight planning, in that routes and flight levels are planned with a view to achieving maximum fuel economy," says Palser. "As turboprops are significantly more fuel efficient than jets it is often the case that it is more economical for the aircraft to return to base rather than incur overnight or overland transport costs for crew and parking fees for the aircraft."

Flight and fuel management is just a part of successful pricing, says Palser, and although computer programmes are immensely helpful he believes that each charter quote requires specific attention to all relevant factors in order to be competitive and profitable.

At some locations, ABS Jets has found that fuel cards cause problems. Ground ops manager Jan Kralik says: "Our crews are sometimes confused using the proper carnet, as they can be pressured by the ground personnel to use a particular carnet due to various advantages and agreements the ground service provider might have with a local fuel provider."

Empty legs are best avoided, says Kralik, and fuel price at the airport plays an important part in the decision. At the company's two home bases and top locations it tries to negotiate a good price with the local provider. Flight planning takes into consideration the most efficient routings in terms of fuel consumption and time savings, and tankering is an option if it means cost efficiency:

"Our internal home-made FOS software works with the .csv files from world fuel providers, compares the prices and simply picks the cheapest one. In case the price is related to a particular handling provider, this could be fixed in advance to avoid confusion after arrival. Our crew decides where to take the fuel, as they always have the fuel prices with them on the briefing form."

Director of ground ops Chris Eden, Rizon Group Holdings Qatar, says that fuel price comparisons are made during the trip planning stage and calculations made of tankering fuel versus fuel price differentials. "We will always tanker fuel if calculations prove this to be more cost-effective."

A wide range of payment options are important: "We have a mix of credit agreements with various suppliers who continue to offer competitive fuel rates as well as carrying five different fuel cards," says Eden. "It's important to have the flexibility to choose how we purchase our fuel."

Wherever possible return legs are minimised to super charge revenue, he says. Fuel costs at destinations are not a major factor in this decision, as overall advantages of selling an empty leg would always cover any higher fuel charges.

The purchasing of fuel is a large proportion of Rizon Group's operating costs and is, therefore, an area where it dedicates time and effort to negotiating and ensuring that its receives the best rates on the day at a particular destination. "As we operate as ad-hoc charter we believe that it is more cost-effective to shop for the best rates on the day and this may include up to eight different fuel quotes per flight destination," explains Eden. "We then lock those rates in prior to the flight, providing us with a visible and complete expectation on any fuel purchase."

With fuel comprising such a significant portion of operating costs, many operators see benefits in tasking staff with the search for the best deals and GainJet Aviation SA is one of them. Andrew Hallak, md, says: "We have a dedicated fuel team whose sole purpose is to reach out on a regular basis to different fuel providers in order to find the best fuel price at each destination.

"We always tanker if fuel is cheaper in one location in comparison to another location. We have formulas whereby we know when we are above break even and beginning savings on costs."

Due to its extensive operation and worldwide destinations, Hallak says that credit agreements are a necessity. "When flying worldwide, fuel cards might not work. Fuel providers generally have arrangements in most airports worldwide and this normally works at all airports."

Gainjet's aircraft almost always return back to base, even if this does involve an empty leg, as Hallak explains: "Our bases have been chosen strategically to cater for certain target markets. We have also found it could be more costly to leave an aircraft parked in a destination away from base waiting to be chartered. There are many costs associated with leaving the aircraft away from home that will not make it cost-effective."

In addition, crews are encouraged to fly close to optimum altitudes, fly more direct routings whenever possible and adopt optimum climb and descent profiles.

Klyne Aviation Group is parent company to SaxonAir Charter, SaxonAir Flight Support and Klyne Air. Christopher Mace, group commercial director, also reports that fuel cost is now a significant percentage of the operating costs. A close watch is kept on average prices throughout its operating areas, while accepting the fact of regional variations.

"Fluctuations in fuel prices can happen at short notice but usually at only a small percentage change. Charter prices are adjusted on average fuel price fluctuations over our operating areas," says Mace.

"We have six major fuel suppliers who supply fuel data to us on a regular basis and we have a piece of software that searches the databases and advises us of the best fuel rates and the appropriate supplier. We compare this to fuel cost from handling agents and deals can often be negotiated for higher volume uplifts."

While tankering can be cost-effective, Mace points out that extra weight and higher fuel burn must be kept in mind. "We have some calculations to tell us what fuel margin is needed to offset the extra burn to ensure we maximise the best overall fuel efficiencies.

And keeping efficiency to the fore means the decision might be for an aircraft to return to base on some occasions while keeping it at other locations under other circumstances. "Airfield choice on the basis of fuel cost only comes about by use of airfields for tech-stops, and there we are looking for efficient turnaround times also," says Mace.

"We have optimum levels for cruise against flight distance pre-calculated, and our flight planning software will look at the actual winds and show any variations in levels to operate the cost efficient profile."

A good credit rating built up over years of operation means that Twinjet prefers to use its contracts with numerous fuel companies such as World Fuel, Jetex and Universal, rather than fuel cards. Philip Moore, ops director, says that fuel purchased using a fuel card can often be more expensive and means paying up front for the fuel. "By paying for fuel using a credit based fuel carnet the payment falls due in 30 days."

Moore reports: "We tend to carry slightly more fuel that we need in order that we can be flexible should a trip change at the last minute, or the customer change their route.

"We do tanker fuel if needed for operational reasons, but we are also aware that in carrying additional fuel we burn a large percentage of that fuel due to the increased weight, on average for an three additional tonnes of fuel you will burn a third, which is not cost-effective."

Twinjet will try to fill its empty legs as far as possible and will not always return to base. "However, in addition to fuel we also have to take into consideration hotels and per diems for the crew, so where it makes economic sense we will return to base."

Moore adds: "Our customers tell us where they want to go and it is a balancing act to find the optimum route and package for the customer and the company. We always look the most economic and cost-effective way of flying the aircraft; it is not just about what fuel we are consuming. For example, the costs of over-flying clearances and air navigation charges can be exorbitant in some countries and this is a major factor in route planning."

Views from the inside

An obvious way to save fuel is to fly at slower speeds but, as Jet Aero Fuels and iFuel president Rinad El-Rabaa points out, when in a hurry this is not an option for the operator or owner.

There are other options, though, that can generate savings on fuel if managed well. Firstly, selecting the right choice of fuel supplier is crucial and sometimes this means an extensive search for the right partner.

El-Rabaa says: "When shopping around for quotes it is very important to ask the right questions, such as who is the into-plane agent? Are there any hidden fees for into-plane services? Are there any hidden taxes that you are not aware of? And, most importantly, how long has the offering company been on the market?

"These days there are many new and raw fuel broker companies in the aviation market that are not transparent with the operators or owners and, while they say they offer cheap fuel, it may be that they are providing fuel at 20-35 cents a gallon higher than other players in the market. It really does pay to make comparisons between suppliers."

For operators, it is also crucial to ask for a good credit line to pay off the fuel and avoid any cash flow issues, advises El-Rabaa. "Not every company on the market can provide good credit lines and usually only those that are strong and have been on the market a while have the capacity to offer this. Boutique suppliers are always good to have but again selection needs to be made following extensive research."

A recent deal saw London-based charter broker Open Aero, fuel supplier Jet Aero Fuels (JAF) and Switzerland-based 28 East Group sign an agreement to form boutique fuel operation iFuel. Launched at Sheremetyevo International, an agreement was signed with the airport enabling iFuel to store and resell fuel to business operators for reduced costs. Fuel has been bundled with ground handling services, reducing overall costs between 25 per cent and 30 per cent. "This enables the supplier to offer the most competitively priced fuel on the market and allows operators to improve budgeting overall," explains El-Rabaa. "iFuel ran a trial of the service at Sheremetyevo which proved successful and it is now working on building this model internationally, starting within the CIS." The plan is to offer the service at CIS airports including Sheremetyevo and Domodedovo, Almaty and Astana airports in Kazakhstan, Boryspil in Ukraine; Baku in Azerbaijan and Tbilisi in Georgia.

As one of the leading aviation fuel suppliers internationally, Air BP offers competitively priced fuel at 600 global locations. It has developed a number of systems and products to support owners and operators in managing fuel costs, purchasing and payment, currently offering two card services worldwide.

For smaller businesses or private individuals, Flight Card offers a simple means of buying Jet Fuel or Avgas at multiple locations. Global Sterling Card offers a global network of fuel points and 24/7 support via a network of offices located in more than 40 countries. With dedicated GA staff at many locations, efficient fuelling can be arranged via the Sterling card helping to enhance trip planning and ensure cost-efficient fuel purchase.

For larger operators or corporate flight departments Air BP advocates a fixed fuel pricing system when the client can predict the number of hours flown, the fixed price system offers clients the opportunity to purchase fuel at a fixed price, a fixed volume and within a certain time period. "Pricing like this may not be available everywhere and it does come with some limitations, but for those that are in a position to plan ahead, it offers a competitive price and a convenient way of fuel buying ," says Air BP GA general manager Miguel Moreno. If operators fly to specific locations on a regular basis Air BP offers the option for contract purchasing that can make the pricing more competitive.

ARINC Direct provides contract fuel services as part of its flight planning solution. "With access to a number of specific fuel planning tools, integrated with a flight planning tool that uses the latest wind and weather data to accurately predict fuel use, and the ability to order fuel online from more than 7,000 locations worldwide at competitive prices we are able to enhance the operator's experience in the business of buying fuel," says James Hardie, flight planning and support.

"Fundamentally, fuel required for a flight plus any contingencies and reserves needs to be accurate for the aircraft to be efficient. Too much fuel can limit the spare capacity of the aircraft for carriage of cargo and passengers, affect take-off and landing distances, limit the initial climb and cruise altitude and cost money and fuel to carry around," he says. "Too little fuel and you are diverting en route."

To save money on fuel, accurate planning with the latest information pre-flight are key to ensuring that every drop of fuel purchased is efficiently used. "We encourage operators to select a flight planning solution that makes use of up-to-the-minute weather forecasts, work with that service provider to tailor the results output to be accurate to the aircraft as it is now, and let your provider know if you have any problems so that it can be adjusted if necessary," suggests Hardie.

Scott Elder, vp business development, AML Global Limited, stresses that operations departments should compare prices and terms carefully. "It is fairly easy to compare the prices of two providers if the only product is fuel. The effective dates of the prices should cover the uplift date, and additional fees taken into conside-ration." Elder warns that care should be taken with fuel providers that also provide flight planning and ground handling services: "If a certain provider knows that his fuel prices are being scrutinised, they might itemise the fuel at zero margin, while making up the difference on the other areas."

Do your homework to avoid paying commission many times over says Andre D Sterchi at aster Jetfuel, Dubai. "Price is the certainly the determining factor! It's not service because, except for major fuel producers/suppliers, resellers have no influence over into-plane service whatsoever," advises Sterchi. He also points out that many flight support companies, FBOs, etc, now offer third party fuel: "The chain could be long if they don't have a contract with a direct supplier. All they do is request offers from other resellers. The reason being that major suppliers have pretty much stopped working with new resellers, so the flow could look like this: supplier to reseller 1 to reseller 2 to reseller 3 to customer.

"Every link in the chain adds its own commission, so by the time the customer receives the fuel invoice, it is much higher than going directly to a supplier or to a first grade reseller." In other words, Sterchi says, operators should check with the fuel ordering company whether that company has direct contract with a producer/supplier and, if not, the operator should shop around.

While agreeing that operators should shop around, Multi Service Aero fuel and ground support relationship manager DJ Post believes striking the correct balance is necessary: "It is all about costs these days and fuel is responsible for a big part of the total costs of your operations, therefore it can be worth-while to look around for the best price available. But you do not want to end up with more administrative work than the savings on fuel?

"Make sure that the price you are being promised is the price you are charged. We have built a system that automatically kicks back the invoice from suppliers if the price is not what was agreed on."

Post says that these are the types of systems needed to make sure that the price expected is the price on the invoice. "A card that covers all major suppliers might be your best bet here," says Post.

Another consideration is for the operator to decide whether it is price or service driven, says Post: "Can you get away with waiting for the cheapest fuel truck with angry passengers in the back needing to attend an urgent meeting? The cheapest option might not be always the best."

Analysts have different ideas about the crude oil price in 2013, as Post points out: "Views range from $115 dollars at the end of the year to $80, which is a huge difference. The fact that analysts' estimates are so far apart shows how hard it is to predict oil prices. Careful planning, and checking if the price you think you are getting is the price you are charged looks like the best advice for 2013."

Joshua E Baynes, senior public relations specialist at Rockwell Collins, also agrees that optimal fuel management requires constant monitoring of world market conditions, requiring the investment of a significant amount of time and resources. He says that finding a trusted source, one that not only scans fuel prices but negotiates them too, is the best way for a flight operation to effectively manage fuel.

Although independent service providers such as Rheinland Air Service (RAS) can offer better pricing and greater flexibility, the fuel market in Europe is still dominated by the few big oil companies, reports ceo Johannes Graf von Schaesberg.

RAS suggests that larger fleet operators tender their annual fuel requirements to all the suppliers at their different destinations. Minor fleet operators have a wide choice in a variety of fuel brokers. Without tendering and fuel brokers, customers are often forced to pay the PAP which is usually a lot higher than the price achieved by the tender or the fuel broker.

Continued technological advancements and a competitive environment have ushered in a range of effective fuel cost management options for operators. So says Hussam Beg, Jetex fuel department business development. However, Beg advises that, where a myriad solutions exist and almost every one offers savings of some kind, there are some strategies that an aircraft owner or operator should consider incorporating in fuel cost management programmes.

Identify and work with a core supplier group based on expertise, reputation and overall competency, says Beg. Apart from benefiting from competitive pricing, the combined experience will enhance an operator's knowledge about the various regions it flies into as well as information on tax exemptions where qualified.

"Some suppliers, especially new entrants, will utilise aggressive or ambush marketing techniques and go to any lengths to attract a customer to gain a foothold in the market but it is not easy to demonstrate competitiveness and quality in a sustained manner and this is what separates the capable suppliers from the rest," says Beg.

When flying to EU countries, Beg advises that operators enroll in the relevant supplier's VAT exemption programme so that invoicing is VAT-compliant. In July 2012, Jetex opened an EU subsidiary called Jetex Fuelling Services in Shannon, Ireland, to enable VAT-compliant invoicing to customers and introduced a completely online VAT assessment process without having operators submit any forms.

"One of the most effective and the least utilised concepts is tendering at high volume locations," says Beg. "For those that do not operate a big fleet, the thought of tendering may traditionally seem something reserved for the 'big boys' but in all practicality, if you are uplifting upwards of 100,000 litres per annum at an airport, it is a good idea to invite the suppliers for a tender."

A review of the previous two to three years of historical uplifts will provide helpful insights to operators as well as identify trends unique to their operations. "Tendering is the most effective option not only in terms of locking down a very competitive differential or into-plane rate for a whole year but also bringing intangible cost benefits by saving time otherwise spent in repetitive comparison of costs," says Beg.

Typically, there is a marked difference in fuel prices at airports located within the vicinity of a tech-stop but to select the airport with the most competitive fuel price is a time consuming process. In November, Jetex launched an online web portal that includes a fuel tanker analysis application, access to live pricing and taxes at more than 3,000 airports, fuel ordering system and VAT status assessment. For customers that request permits or ground handling, all relevant flight updates are posted in real-time. The portal is accessible from mobile devices.

Another cost saving method is subscription to fuel cost-comparison software with an in-built ordering system. There are companies providing increasingly useful features that take the headache out of the otherwise time-consuming supplier selection process.

But, regardless of the options being chosen, the onus is still on operators to do their homework by identifying their uplift trends to put together a strategy that is practical and effective in the short and long-term.

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