We seem to be barely moving. For about the hundredth time in the last few minutes I check our airspeed and then look back outside at the Georgia countryside, seemingly fixed in place, visible through ragged gaps in the clouds below us. All three airspeed gauges in the cockpit agree; we are in fact moving, just not very quickly. I briefly contemplate bumping up the thrust levers but a quick glance out at our project fuel an landing number makes me dismiss that thought and go back to listening to the abnormal quiet as we creep eastward through clear skies.
It’s the last leg of a four day trip. All that waits for me, 200 miles away in Charlotte, is a two hour sit and then a deadhead home where I am done for a few days. The FO and Flight Attendant are also both done in Charlotte, but only have a quick car ride to their respective houses. The joys of being outstation based once again rear their ugly head. Despite the slow speed we are flying and the 20 minute sit we just endured by the runway in Montgomery, Alabama watching Navy BeechJets fly practice approaches, we are still showing landing 15 minutes early thanks to an early push in Montgomery and favorable tailwinds. I’ve got no place to be but for the rest of the crew, ever minute makes a difference.
Due to a new fuel saving program, we are now being dispatched with less fuel than ever before. The thought is that “extra” fuel we used to carry around weighed a lot and actually burned even more fuel to carry it around. Spread across a fleet of 50 airplanes doing 8 flights a day, 365 days a year, the numbers add up. Apparently. The company brought in an “expert” who explained all of this to a number of captains and management pilots. I came away from the session understanding the reasons, but wondering about the specifics. After two weeks of flying under the new program I’m still wondering about the specifics.
The immediate effect of this program is that if we are planned for a certain speed in cruise, our fuel load is based on flying that speed. Flying faster burns more gas, and while in the past with larger margins we could bump up the speed if we needed to (or felt we needed to), it is no longer always feasible. We are currently showing landing right at our minimums. I check the weather report at Charlotte, guess which runways they will be using and mentally add that into the fuel burn calculation. The number doesn’t improve so I leave the thrust levers where they are and go back to watching the world slide by.
15 minutes will have to do.