How We Overcame Cultural Inertia and Saved Millions
“Cultural Inertia”: The tendency for a group of people to cling to traditions and ways of thinking that have outlived their usefulness even when better ways are presented.
Man, was this ever “us”. We still see evidence of this phenomenon on a fairly regular basis around Air Operations, but never was it as visible as in the early days of our current and ongoing fuel savings efforts, affectionately known as Fuel Sense . But as the title of this blog clearly states, we – pilots, AMTs, dispatchers, managers, and members of many other dedicated work groups – threw off the heavy cloak of past practice, opened our minds to new ideas, and embraced the changes in policy, process, and procedure that have led us major accomplishments – millions of dollars in measurable fuel savings.
That we achieved this milestone is particularly significant considering how we unconsciously tried, again and again, to derail the effort by declaring “We’re FedEx; we’re different”, and then proudly ignored whatever good fuel savings idea had been proffered. Here are some examples:
Less than All Engine Taxi (LTAET)
I distinctly remember my own negative reaction to a debriefing I received following the 2006 Fuel Gap Analysis study, the event conducted by an outside consulting firm that actually gave birth to the Fuel Sense program itself. We were told – lectured, actually – that we were squandering millions of dollars of potential fuel savings by always starting all engines prior to taxi for takeoff, and then leaving them all running as we taxied to the gate after landing.
“But we’re Fedex… If we get down to the south end of the airport and can’t get that engine started, instead of having to deal with a couple of hundred aggravated passengers, we could suffer millions of dollars in service failures.” But we kept talking, got past our “cultural inertia”, and developed the processes and procedures we needed to make LTAET a safe, efficient, effective part of our operation. And thanks to our crewmembers’ buy-in, we can attribute almost $38,000,000 of our cumulative fuel savings to the regular use of these procedures.
Flag/Domestic Dispatch Certification
“Too tough to do.” “An FAA approvals nightmare.” “A regulatory Mount Everest.” “The process will take so long we’ll never realize any fuel savings from it.” “The crews and dispatchers will never buy into it.” “We’re FedEx, we’re supplemental and it works.” Again, we – all of us – cast our cultural biases aside, implemented this change to our global operation, shifted a major paradigm. Issuance of a Domestic/Flag certificate has given us the opportunity to reduce the amount of fuel carried on our aircraft on good weather days. We can attribute almost $75,000,000 of our cumulative fuel savings to this initiative.
APU Runtime Reduction
No one wants to sit in a cockpit that’s either sweltering or freezing and try to safely and effectively conduct preflight operations. But running an aircraft APU for literally hours on end was yet another area the Fuel Gap Analysis identified as wasteful. The effort to implement the runtime processes that we have in place today truly required a cultural adjustment on the part of several organizations – Flight Operations, Aircraft Maintenance, and Ramp Operations. Having heating and cooling carts available and operational prior to departure, as well as ensuring ground electrical power was available and operational at block-in required a tremendous amount of coordination and, yes, buy-in, to make happen. Many times the “We’re FedEx…” reason/excuse for resisting these changes was employed. But as before, we kept talking and eventually inertia gave way to innovation and this program has resulted in almost $227,000,000 of our cumulative fuel savings.
Furthermore, there were plenty of other initiatives that were initially held back by Cultural Inertia, but through a lot of talking, planning, testing and believing, finally saw the light of day, and have made major contributions to our fuel savings efforts. The list includes: reducing the standard takeoff flap settings in the Airbus and MD-11/10 fleets, the development and employment of more fuel efficient Area Navigation (RNAV) departure and arrival procedures, and the aircraft weight reduction program.
So what does the future hold for the Fuel Sense program? Are we ready to rest on our laurels after saving millions of dollars and let some other part of the Company save their share? Absolutely, positively, not! There are still scores of undiscovered ideas out there that can help us save even more fuel in the future. Our challenge is to find them, examine them, and find ways to implement them. Our previous mindset – “Unless an action saves a large amount of fuel it isn’t worth the time and effort” – has given way to “In an operation as large as ours, even small amounts add up to big savings over time.” So thank you for your continued support and participation in our ongoing efforts to save fuel whenever and wherever we can. Trust me, in a corporation that spends over $3 billion annually on jet fuel, no amount of savings is too small.
One person – one action – one drop.
Fuel Sense blog posts:
– Fuel Sense: Every Drop Counts at FedEx Express
– Fuel Sense: It Only Works When We Work Together
– Two Misunderstood Words: Economical and Responsible
– Fuel Sustainability: When Does it Make Sense to go Extra Thick?
– Saving Fuel to Defend our Nation
– Fuel Sustainability: Simple Adjustments Save Millions