Frequent aircraft exterior cleaning helps reducing fuel consumption and lower costs

08 Dec 2022

By Jennifer Chang.    Photo:Markus Winkler

Fuel costs in some regions have risen by 90% compared to early 2022, which is no small deal for airlines, as fuel is  the often operating cost, accounting for around  25% of total costs. The continued struggles of the aviation industry, especially  the soaring cost of aviation fuel, have prompted many maintenance and repair service providers and airlines to look for ways to better optimize their operations and processes to reduce fuel consumption. It may come as a surprise to some that a clean aircraft will have an impact on fuel savings. A freshly washed aircraft can make a real difference in fuel savings, saving about 0.5%, which is equivalent to about half a ton of jet fuel.


During long periods of flight and parking, the airframe surface and its components are exposed to pollution from the atmosphere, ground and fuel exhaust, resulting in the accumulation of smoke, dust, oil, carbon, oxides and other pollutants. Not only do these contaminants make the aircraft dirty, but they also reduce the surface finish, increase frictional drag, increase fuel consumption, and possibly increase electrostatic buildup, which is not conducive to safe flight. More seriously, these contaminants can cause localized corrosion and affect the life of parts of the aircraft structure. Regular bathing of the aircraft to remove these deposits will not only make the aircraft more beautiful, but also reduce flight fuel consumption, reduce the occurrence of corrosion, extend the life of the aircraft structure, and ensure the safe and normal operation of the aircraft.


This is especially important for aircraft operating in specific areas and geographic regions, as aircraft flying brings about more dust accumulation, which in turn requires more frequent external cleaning. In cold areas with particularly harsh winters, aircraft typically accumulate more dirt on the runway externally due to the residue of continuous de-icing, sand throwing from aircraft ramp areas and the use of de-icing agents. The combination of these conditions can result in a large accumulation of dirt on airframe components such as the lower abdomen, and require more repeated cleaning. Without more frequent external cleaning, the aircraft must use more thrust and more fuel during takeoff. In the end, this translates into increased fuel consumption for the aircraft. That's why maintaining a properly cleaned exterior becomes a necessary step in reducing jet fuel costs, especially when fuel costs are skyrocketing. While new and innovative technological solutions may reduce fuel consumption, external cleaning is still a ready solution for efficient and safe aircraft operation. Every optimization process, including the seemingly one-minute external cleaning, is an important process in a broader fuel savings program.

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