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U.S. lets airlines carry less fuel on some routes

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U.S. lets airlines carry less fuel on some routes

Mon Nov 8, 2004 07:30 PM ET

WASHINGTON, Nov 8 (Reuters) - Regulators are letting some airlines carry smaller reserves of fuel on international flights to reduce weight and save money, the Federal Aviation Administration said on Monday.

With record-high fuel costs worsening red ink at struggling big airlines, the FAA is allowing airlines that fly trans-Atlantic and other international routes to cut the amount of fuel they carry on certain flights by up to 10 percent, agency officials said.

Russ Chew, the FAA's senior air traffic official, told reporters that carriers were putting pressure on regulators to take steps that would help improve aircraft fuel efficiency.

Chew said the FAA, among other things, was working on more efficient air traffic management, improved navigation technology and procedures to permit more direct routing and simpler flight plans.

FAA plans to help airlines reduce fuel costs by 1 percent through 2008. Big airlines have seen such expenses grow exponentially this year as oil prices topped $55 per barrel. For instance, bankrupt United Airlines (UALAQ.OB: Quote, Profile, Research) plans to spend $1.2 billion more for fuel in 2004 than first projected.

Fuel costs account for about 20 percent of airline operating expenses.

Carrying heavy debt and battling discounters, big airlines are looking for any savings advantage, especially in fuel use.

This summer, the FAA relaxed a long-standing requirement that aircraft on international flights carry 10 percent extra fuel to cover detours because of weather, navigational problems or the need to extend the flight to an alternate airport.

Removing extra fuel can dramatically cut aircraft weight, reducing the amount needed to power jetliners on long flights.

The FAA said because of safety concerns, waivers on fuel requirements for international routes are granted on a case-by-case basis.

So far, American Airlines and Continental Airlines (CAL.N: Quote, Profile, Research) are the only two carriers that have been permitted to carry less fuel, the FAA said.

American, a unit of AMR Corp. (AMR.N: Quote, Profile, Research) , hopes to save up to$10.5 million a year by reducing its fuel reserve levels.

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