How to Manage your Jet’s Operating Costs: Fuel

Fuel forms a substantial chunk of a business jet’s operating costs. Though you can’t fly without it, there are some steps you can take to understand and manage the quantity and cost of fuel your aircraft consumes. David Wyndham offers an outline...

David Wyndham  |  22nd February 2024
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    David Wyndham
    David Wyndham

    David Wyndham has extensive expertise in aircraft sales and acquisitions, asset management, cost and...

    How to understand private jet fuel costs


    According to AirNav.com, in early January 2024 fuel prices in the US for Jet-A averaged $6.00 per US gallon. The reported high and low prices ranged from $3 to $15 per gallon, representing significant variability! 

    Making this applicable to turbine aircraft, hourly fuel burns can range from 40 gallons per hour (gph) in a single-engine turboprop to over 500gph aboard a trans-continental business jet. For some aircraft owners and operators, the price of fuel “is what it is”, but with a better understanding of fuel costs, that doesn’t have to be the case...

    High-performance business jets usually have at least two published speeds: Long-Range Cruise and High Cruise Speed. 

    As the name implies, long-range speeds allow for maximum fuel efficiency for those who are flying the greatest distance and are typically the slowest published cruise for the aircraft. High cruise speed represents a maximum continuous speed that the model is capable of, but tends to represent poor fuel efficiency.

    Note: Unlike with automobiles, in aviation we do not use “miles per gallon” to measure fuel efficiency, but instead measure nautical miles flown per pound of fuel burned (nm/lb).

    The table below provides an illustrative comparison between high cruise and long-range cruise for a popular Mid-Size business jet flying a 1,000nm trip. As demonstrated, the difference in fuel usage is approximately 35%, or ~$1,000 more to fly at high cruise speed. In this instance, the Mid-Size Jet owner/operator spends about 24 minutes more time in the air when flying long-range cruise speed.

    While the preliminary assessment of fuel costs seems straightforward in Table A, it’s rarely so simple in the complex world of aviation. Fuel is not the only variable cost that needs to be factored here.

    Maintenance costs (which we’ll cover in more depth next time) accrue based on hours flown. Thus, saving $1,000 in fuel cost will result in your maintenance costs for the trip being higher which will ultimately see the total saving dwindle.

    Many turbine aircraft have intermediate cruise speeds that are a balance between speed and fuel burn and allow aircraft owners/operators to choose what works best for their trip and schedule.

    How Else Can Business Jet Fuel Costs be Managed?

    Fuel Vendor: Fortunately, there are other ways to manage your aircraft’s fuel costs beyond the cruise speed you choose to fly. These include choosing your fuel vendor wisely.

    Your home Fixed Base Operator (FBO) is likely to be where you purchase most of your Jet-A fuel, and you may be able to negotiate a fuel discount by buying in bulk. This will require you to agree to purchase a set amount of fuel over time, and you may be able to extend this discount if you frequent the same fuel vendor at other airfields.

    Fuel Cards: Another way to manage your jet fuel costs is to make use of a fuel card program. These may be branded by vendor or organization. Ancillary services with many of these cards can be reward point programs, or they can be value-added services. Reward points may be used for other areas of travel, such as rental cars and hotels. (Read more about fuel vendors and fuel cards).

    Jet Fuel Discounts: Do Your Homework

    Before you “pick a card, any card” keep the following considerations in mind: Having a fuel card accepted at over 3,000 FBOs does you no good if your most frequented FBO is not on the list.

    It should be easy for your Flight Department to do a review of the past couple of years’ travel to see which FBOs you frequent, and the volume of fuel purchased. Many operators have a preferred FBO based on services and location, not just fuel cost.

    Popular Business Aviation airports often have two or three FBO choices (helping drive healthy competition over fuel prices and other service discounts), whereas major airline hubs may have a single Business Aviation FBO.

    Which option really works for you? Which helps you harness the aircraft ownership costs associated with fuel? 

    When comparing fuel card programs, the following steps will prove helpful:

    1.    Where do you fly?
    2.    How much fuel do you purchase?
    3.    Do you use the fuel card’s member FBOs already?
    4.    What type of discount are you looking for (e.g., the best discount per gallon)?
    5.    Does the program prearrange for fuel to be ready when you arrive?
    6.    Are there associated membership fees?
    7.    How is the fuel billed?
    8.    Does the fuel card connect to, or use services that you currently use such as flight planning software?
    9.    What ancillary services does the card offer that could add value to your flight operation?
    10.    Are you a Part 91 operator?

    Many operators have several fuel cards. Which card(s) works best for you is likely to depend on where you fly and how much fuel you purchase. You may elect to pay a higher fuel cost at some airport FBOs as they have the quality and services that you need to make it a cost-effective choice.

    Ultimately, flight depends upon the consumption of fuel. While the cost of that fuel takes up a considerable percentage of your entire aircraft operating cost, fortunately you do have some control over how much fuel, and what you pay for it. You just need to be savvy about your aircraft’s operations.

    Do you have a specific aircraft maintenance, upgrade or repair need?

    Use Advantage to outline your maintenance requirements by completing our quick form, and your enquiry will be passed to qualified service providers. Receive the feedback you need to help you choose the right partner and the best deal.
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    David Wyndham

    David Wyndham

    Editor, Ownership & Operating Costs

    David Wyndham has extensive expertise in aircraft sales and acquisitions, asset management, cost and budget analysis and finance fundamentals. With several decades supporting aircraft owners and operators in making fully-informed decisions about their aircraft needs, his expertise spans from the flight department to the executive boardroom.

    David is the founder of David Wyndham + Associates, and previously he was a Co-owner and President of Conklin & de Decker where he consulted with large corporations, individuals, and government agencies on their aircraft needs.


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