AIRLINES are facing many millions of pounds in extra fuel costs, as they deal with the likelihood of long delays over London in particular during the Border Force strike, an investigation has found.
British Airways is one of a number of airlines instructing its pilots to take on additional fuel to help jets cope with having to hold for an extra hour in the skies over the Capital during the week-long walkout.
A senior aviation source told Herald.Wales the contingency was “essential but extremely costly” and a “huge setback” to a sector already struggling to rebuild after the devastating effects of the pandemic on worldwide travel.
Around 1,000 Border Force staff, who are members of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) , are striking every day from today until the end of the year, except for 27 December.
Border Force staff at Gatwick, Birmingham, Cardiff, Glasgow and Manchester, as well as the Port of Newhaven are also striking.
The airports have contingencies to help minimise the delays, including the use of some military personnel at passport control.
But Steve Dann, Chief Operating Officer at Border Force said he could not rule out the possibility that some airports might be forced to close for a while.
The delays at the two London airports are expected to be felt most acutely, where airliners regularly have to join holding patterns for a landing slot lasting many minutes.
GB News has seen an internal memo from British Airways management to the airline’s pilots, instructing them to take on an additional hour’s worth of fuel for long-haul flights coming into London.
The pilots of short-haul flights are being told to take on an extra 30 minute’s fuel into London, Manchester and Glasgow.
BA planes coming into London normally have an additional 30-minute fuel contingency to help cope with having to hold over the Capital.
The additional fuel on top of that will cost BA alone many millions over the week-long industrial action.
Other airlines are implementing similar contingencies and are also facing hefty additional fuel bills.
A senior aviation source said air traffic controllers may have no choice but to place passenger jets into long holding patterns.
He told this newspaper: “The problem with very significant queues at the various passport controls is that as those queues grow, airport authorities are likely to ask pilots of jets that have landed to hold at the terminal gates, and not allow their passengers to disembark.
“That of course means that other arriving aircraft can’t use those gates in the meantime, and they can’t simply wait on the taxi-ways.
“It can soon become very messy on the ground, so adopting a holding pattern or diverting to another strike-free airport might have to be the alternative. Either option burns up more fuel.”
The source added: “This is the very last thing airlines need as they try to rebuild their businesses after Covid.
“For airlines, it’s not as simple as just providing an extra hour of fuel for every long-haul flight.
“The mathematics mean that adding more fuel also adds more weight, and then you need to burn even more fuel to carry that extra weight.
“And if you’re on the likes of a 14-hour long flight back from Singapore, carrying that extra weight over such a long period fairly adds up.
“So actually, in your fuel calculations, you have to add quite a bit more than simply an extra hour’s worth.”
On average, a long-haul flight can burn between 5 and 8 tons of fuel each hour, depending on its weight or load.
A typical transatlantic flight from New York to London can use up around 40 tons of fuel, at a cost of about £27,000.
The requirement for an additional hour of fuel would add an extra £6,500 to that cost.
According to the aviation source “With more than 1000 flights landing at Heathrow every day, the cost to the airline industry from an 8-day walkout will be huge and eventually that additional cost will be passed back down the line to the weary passenger, in the form of increased ticket prices.”