From Fuel Supply to FuelSense
You never know where some things will lead. As an Army Captain, I had the fortune to command a supply company that included a fuel supply platoon with the responsibility to refuel the 3rd Armored Division in central Germany.
These refueling operations were very static, dispensing fuel from large bladders which required units to congregate many tracked and wheeled vehicles at fuel depots. This made refueling not only inefficient but placed exposed vehicles at a higher risk of an enemy strike as they congregated.
We thought “there has to be a better way”, and during one of our deployment exercises, some soldiers in my unit invented a process to refuel tanks and vehicles while units were moving – a kind of mobile filling station.
I learned two significant things from this experience: first, fuel is the lifeblood of moving organizations and as such, any improvement translates to significant operational impact and second, the best ideas for change come from the rank and file.
Twenty years later at FedEx, I have the unique privilege of working with the FedEx Express Fuel Sense team, a group of enterprising aviation professionals who have found ways to improve our airline operations so significantly; we have reduced our annual fuel burn by over 5%. My FedEx background in aviation fuel management comes from the aircraft dispatch organization where I learned about improvement opportunities from the folks in flight and dispatch operations who run our airline every day.
Now, my role is to guide and support the entire fuel management team, which is composed of flight crews, dispatchers, aircraft mechanics, engineers and analysts. They are the front line experts at FedEx who regularly come up with solutions to typical aviation industry problems as well as finding innovative answers to tough problems – very similar to the role my soldiers played.
Some specific FuelSense programs include planning more efficient flight routes, altitudes and speeds, reducing the aircraft weight, using energy efficient ground support equipment, taxiing with one less engine and loading the aircraft to fly more efficiently. The next big area for improvement will be in concert with the FAA’s initiatives to improve efficiency, collectively called NextGen, as we work to streamline our operations from takeoff to landing. We are already making some headway in improving arrival and departure procedures and will soon implement reduced separation related to wake turbulence in Memphis.
Altering fuel management practices are difficult and require many groups to be in sync throughout the planning and roll-out cycles. Our FuelSense soldiers have enjoyed exceptional results because they were inspired by the opportunity to make a difference and were willing to work together on the tough issues.
And the results speak for themselves: in fiscal year 2013, the Fuel Sense program helped save almost 60 million gallons of jet fuel from being used, resulting in 572,000 metric tons of avoided CO2 emissions that year – that’s roughly equivalent to the emissions associated with the electricity use of 85,629 homes for one year or the carbon sequestered by 14,666,667 tree seedlings grown for 10 years, based on the EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator.
The bottom line is, improvements are always possible as long as the front line experts feel they have support to identify and go after opportunities. Whether in the military or business, the role of commanders and leaders is to ensure they support and encourage change from the bottom up.
I’m really back to where I began, and I feel fortunate to be here.
Read more about sustainability at FedEx in our Global Citizenship Report.