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September 2008
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Plane Talking

The wind beneath our winglets

Airlines are increasingly seeing the benefits of retro-fitting older aircraft with new technologies available that help save fuel and reduce emissions. Partially, this is because of the high oil price suddenly making the return on investment period a lot shorter, but it also reflects the new emphasis within a lot of airlines on operating greener fleets. Sometimes, it may have a bit to do with making your aircraft look, well, cooler…

Take winglets. These are the upturned extensions to normal aircraft wings which not only look ‘sexy’ as one journalist recently put it, but also provide some massive savings in fuel use. In fact, it is estimated that by 2014, these retro-fitted winglets could save up to five billion gallons of jet fuel across the industry. While some Boeing and most Airbus aircraft have wingtip devices built into them at the point of manufacture, a company called Aviation Partners Boeing makes the 737 and 757 blended winglets that have proved very popular, with nearly 2,500 aircraft having had the technology fitted. Now, another of the industry’s workhorses – the Boeing 767 – has had winglets created for it . Among the 10 launch customer airlines for the new (and, at 3.4 meters, tall) winglets are American Airlines, Air New Zealand and Hawaiian Airlines. There is even work being undertaken into the possibility of retro-fitting them on to 777 aircraft.

Another idea that has been floating around the aviation industry for a little while is the use of these exotic ‘spiroid’ wingtips, which help decrease drag even further…



I will leave it to you to decide whether or not they are sexy, but as Air New Zealand alone believes its normal 767 winglets will save over $7.5 million worth of fuel and 12,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide each year on its 767 fleet , we can certainly call winglet technology a good investment.

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