It's not only on the outside that manufacturers and airlines are finding ways to reduce their costs. Airlines are taking the cutter on a whole range of on-board costs, including in-flight duty free sales. Image Credit: Bloomberg

London: The coronavirus has accelerated airlines' digital uptake as carriers look for ways to reduce human touchpoints. But that push has had another impact, too.

It's reduced cabin weight, and that can mean big cost savings.

Singapore Airlines Ltd.'s low-cost carrier Scoot said it's introducing an inflight system called ScootHub that customers can access via their mobile devices to order food, drinks, duty-free and other services. It estimates the move will not only reduce paper consumption by more than 156 tonnes but cut annual carbon dioxide emissions by over 41 tonnes and save more than 13 tonnes of fuel.

Read More

It's all on the app

COVID-19 has also prompted British Airways to remove printed copies of its signature inflight magazine, in circulation for more than half a century. Now, the magazine is available as a free download on passengers' personal devices, helping British Airways trim a significant amount of weight, according to Inmarsat Aviation.

"The pandemic has given airlines an impetus to leverage digital solutions more extensively as a means to reduce common passenger touchpoints, with weight reduction being an additional benefit," Inmarsat Aviation Vice-President Asia-Pacific, David Coiley, said.

And anything that reduces costs in aviation right now is a good thing. Managing expenses is critical for airlines battling the economic impact of the pandemic. Carriers globally have let go of hundreds of thousands of staff and industry losses are now expected to be around $118.5 billion in 2020, according to the International Air Transport Association.

Those bits add up

Fuel is one of the largest and most variable expenses for airlines, accounting for almost a quarter of operating costs, and cabin weight is known to have a notable impact on reducing those charges. In 2018, United Airlines Holdings Inc. saved $290,000 in annual fuel costs merely by using a lighter weight of paper for its inflight magazine. In another well-documented example, American Airlines Group Inc. removed just one olive from each salad plate to save $40,000.

Technology advances have made it possible for airlines to phase out inflight menus, magazines and entertainment consoles, which can weigh as much as 6 kilograms each, according to Coiley. Onboard retail is another area where airlines can trim weight, instead using e-commerce apps and couriers to deliver inflight purchases once on the ground.

Out they go

Finnair Oyj ended inflight duty-free sales in Europe earlier this year. It also removed plastic cutlery in favor of a lighter, more sustainable alternative as part of its weight reduction drive, saving $20,000 in fuel costs.

"COVID-19 has amplified the need to look for more avenues of cost savings and hastened the use of touch-free technology," said Vasudevan S, an aviation partner at KPMG LLP in India.

Other ways in which airlines can decrease weight include a reduction of air-sickness bags, lighter food carts and only carrying pre-ordered food and drinks, he said.