Fuel prices are constantly on the rise. AOPA is striving daily to provide you with tools like AOPA’s Airport Directory Online with up-to-date fuel price listings to help you control the cost of staying in the air. Here are some techniques you can use to extend the life of a gallon of avgas.
Beat the crowds. Plan your flight at off-peak times. Departing on an early weekday instead of a weekend will put you one step ahead of the rush. If you must travel on a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, consider the airport tenant history. If you know Saturday afternoon is touch-and-go day, avoid departing when you know the pattern will be full. Generally, Friday and Sunday afternoon will be the busiest times at all airports.
Everyone knows that being ahead of the aircraft in flight starts on the ground. Take this a step further by applying it to saving fuel. After preflight, tune in appropriate frequencies, review taxi diagrams, and listen to the automated weather before starting the engine.
On takeoff, try to avoid wake turbulence delays. At busy controlled fields with numerous airline departures, ask for a runway that will not require three-minute holds for wake turbulence. Proper performance calculations allow safe use of shorter available runways. If your takeoff skills are excellent, cut down on taxi time by utilizing intersection departures at appropriate taxiways. Always take the necessary time to completely understand the capabilities of your aircraft and yourself. Never push the limits.
In flight training, instructors teach best rate of climb and best angle of climb. Don’t forget cruise-climb. This climb configuration uses either a constant airspeed or a constant vertical speed and normally requires about a one-bar nose-high attitude and climb power. The cruise climb’s higher speed reduces flight time and improves forward visibility and engine cooling. Check the pilot’s operating handbook to find the manufacturer-recommended cruise-climb speed and power settings.
Take full advantage of wind. Wind varies with altitude and circulates clockwise around a high-pressure area and counterclockwise around a low-pressure area. It’s easy to take advantage of winds when planning a cross-country flight by selecting an altitude with the best tailwind (or least headwind), balanced against the time required for climb and descent. Although it’s possible to do the calculations with an E6B, most of the new flight-planning computer programs will run those calculations instantly and return the best possibilities based on forecast winds in a weather briefing. AOPA’s Real-Time Flight Planner, powered by Jeppesen, is included in AOPA membership and takes the guesswork out of flight planning. Picking a favorable altitude can shorten en route time by as much as 10 percent on an average general aviation flight, saving precious fuel dollars.
Step back in time and use pressure pattern flying. Charles Lindbergh used pressure-pattern flying to save fuel and later taught U.S. military aviators the secrets. Instead of flying a straight line across a pressure system, it can be quicker to fly a curved track that follows the airflow around the pressure system. Pressure-pattern flying means nothing more than making a trip holding a single carefully calculated heading allowing prevailing pressure to push the aircraft into a ground track that provides minimum time en route. This gives the greatest tailwind possible for the flight, which in turn compensates for and overcomes the arced and slightly longer track distance. Learn more about high- and low-pressure systems and changes in wind direction and velocity in the AOPA Air Safety Foundation’s online course Weather Wise: Air Masses and Fronts.
Use a cruise descent when approaching the destination airport. Proper descent planning allows you to carry lower power settings throughout a larger portion of your flight. If your groundspeed is 60 knots—one nautical mile per minute (npm)—you will travel two nm for every 1,000 feet of descent. If groundspeed is 120 knots—two npm—you will travel four nm for every 1,000 feet of descent, and if 180 knots—three npm—you will require six nm for every 1,000 feet of descent.
Plan your landing direction to minimize taxi time. At larger airports with long runways, landing at the very beginning of the runway when the FBO is at the opposite end can burn more fuel during taxi than realized. If the runway is 12,500 feet long, for instance, and you have to taxi for 11,000 of those feet at 5 mph, taxi time is nearly 25 minutes!
A word of caution, though: The one thing you don’t want to stretch is the fuel available in your tanks. It’s one thing to manage your fuel so it goes further—it’s another to skimp on topping the tanks and running the risk of fuel exhaustion. The AOPA Air Safety Foundation’s Fuel Awareness Safety Advisor reminds us all to carry enough fuel to safely complete the flight.
And, when you taxi to the pump don’t forget your AOPA WorldPoints Credit Card and get double points for every dollar in net retail purchases at thousands of participating FBOs.