A rare opportunity to pilot a combat aircraft many years ago etched in my brain sensations- emotions and perceptions in direct proportion to the speeds and Gs achieved during the flight.

Dave Higdon  |  01st November 2010
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Dave Higdon
Dave Higdon

Dave Higdon is a highly respected, NBAA Gold Wing award-winning aviation journalist who has covered all...

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Fueling Frugally:
Cards & Programs Offer Savings to Savvy Operators.

A rare opportunity to pilot a combat aircraft many years ago etched in my brain sensations- emotions and perceptions in direct proportion to the speeds and Gs achieved during the flight.

It’s easy to recall the latent impact on my muscles from 90 minutes of high-G maneuvering; the sudden impact a 6-G pull-up imposes on the eyeballs; the breath-robbing embrace of instantly weighing seven times normal in the ejection seat; the breathtaking rotation of the altimeter needle during a 20-000 feet-per-minute climb.

Accompanying each of those stand-out moments of aviating extremes: the extreme RPM achieved by the spinning digits on the fuel-flow indicator. The show of cruise-power fuel consumption provided an interesting touchstone of detail- the digits unrelentingly turning over click-click-click- one after another as the U.S. Navy F/A-18 sped along at more than 450 knots.

Shoving the throttles into afterburners ignited a ring of pure fuel just inside the engines’ exhaust- producing acceleration that further pinned me into the ejection seat. At that moment the fuel-flow indicator numbers screamed into an unreadable blur. The experience flashed back to me recently while monitoring fuel flow from the right seat of a business jet. It wasn’t quite the same sensation but after checking that business jet’s fuel-flow numbers and developing a current prices per-hour fuel cost- curiosity made me look-up the fuel-flow numbers for a representative F/A-18.

Thankfully- Uncle Sam tends to get a better pricing on fuel than most business aircraft operators - buying on contract- and the government participates in any number of fuel-saving programs for fuel bought off contract. Fuel-purchase incentive programs of all ilks are available to owners and operators of business jets - something the owner of my recently sampled jet reminded me about. He- too- participates in a number of programs and carries cards that generate benefits in a variety of ways.

Regardless of the aircraft we spend our time flying- fuel use varies in direct proportion to our time flying; at whatever per-hour number is typical for a given aircraft- flight hours control fuel consumed. What enters the fuel tanks in exchange for bucks- exits the engines in the form of momentum- heat and noise.

We in aviation generally describe fuel use in pounds per hour- maybe gallons per hour – seldom- if ever- in dollar terms. We leave that information to the accountants for when we want to know what we spent on fuel last year (in terms of hourly costs). So why do we seldom talk in terms of dollars- per-hour of fuel? Maybe because fuel prices can vary widely; similarly- fuel cards and fuel programs vary in how they deliver their promised benefits.

What the program sponsors all promise or offer is a measurable financial benefit for using their program. With some programs you may see that benefit in a direct at-the-pump discount; others may offer rebates in some form; others still may generate a lower-than-market price; while some offer spiffs in exchange for points accumulated from fuel purchases.

The owner of the jet mentioned above is one of those who proactively seeks out reward programs – for car rentals- hotel stays… Jet A purchases included. “I do think about the costs of kerosene; before every mission-” he explained. “I try to plan for fueling where one of my cards or discount programs work. Fuel- in the end- is the most-visible cost of flying.”

As the pilot and the principal executive of his company- he sees the bills directly. He knows well the tax implications for his business use; they help make the plane financially feasible. “But travel benefits and business deductions aside- we still have to generate the money to pay for the plane and its use-” he noted. “Anything that eases the burden makes life that much easier.

“If I couldn’t afford this I wouldn’t be flying it- of course…but that doesn’t mean I don’t watch what I spend.” The discounts add up- he explained: the small per-gallon savings and modest total account discounts to which he subscribes achieve substantial value when you apply them to the fuel for 200 hours of flying (his average annual use).

The discounts add up in a bigger way when you up the ante 50 percent to 300 hours of annual use - a level more typical of larger corporate operators. Thanks to fuel cards and discount programs- operators can shave a worthwhile amount off the direct operating costs.

You can plan fuel-smart routings through use of some of the fuel-finder services- either by finding a suitable place that accepts one of your programs- or by uncovering that hidden gem of an airport that’s day-to-day less expensive than the competition – one with a fuel discount program.

People uninvolved in the operation or support of a business-turbine aircraft generally nod at the abstract idea of fuel consumption. Translate fuel flow into dollars-per-hour if you really want to impress them. Or just leave it hidden in the mystique using a private aircraft.

Anyone who has ever watched the fuel truck meter- fuel-flow gauge or signed the receipt for a top-off- the numbers can seem more reasonable in the scheme of total costs: fuel- maintenance plan- maintenance labor- and replacement parts. Omni International Jet Trading breaks down hourly operating costs at its website http://www.omnijet.com/doc/index.html and shows numbers for more than 90 common business jet models – including current production models. At the smallest end of the spectrum- the Eclipse 500 (totaling less than 60 gallons an hour; fuel costs amount to more than 40 percent of the above parameters’ total of $500 an hour – based on $3.75 a gallon for Jet-A (good luck finding that price today)).

Move up to a Citation CJ1 and the numbers add up to about $830 an hour - $450 of that in fuel. Step higher to a Challenger 300 and expect about $1-600- two-thirds of it in fuel. Take the next rung up to the Gulfstream G500 or G550 and you move up to more than $2-400 an hour – more than $1-600 of it in Jet A.

Now- consider the differences using a price more typical today – about $4.50 per gallon… Knowing these numbers- who wouldn’t avail themselves of every ‘break’ they can get?

One note here: Remember that accountant we spoke of earlier? You will need to make sure that accountant knows of your fuel-discount-program participation- regardless of its form. Rewards from these programs may have to be treated as income to a recipient – corporate or individual. Let’s turn our attention to some of today’s prominent fuel programs.

Although terms and conditions apply- Atlantic Awards ultimately puts money back in the hands of the person wielding the fuel card. According to the Atlantic Aviation Awards website- the program works thus: Apply to join the program via the company website; as you buy fuel in the program you receive a certificate worth $5 for every 100 gallons of Jet A purchased.

Redeem the coupons through the Awards website and when your account total reaches a value of $200 – after purchasing 4-000 gallons for a total of 40 certificates in a calendar year – Atlantic Aviation sends the named enrolled an American Express debit card with $200 on it. All redemptions must be done using Atlantic Aviation’s website.

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Americans might most easily understand the concept of AML Global as the company describes itself: a buyers’ co-operative focused on securing the lowest price possible for customers through direct negotiation with refuelers that are leveraged by – yes- you guessed it – the size and volume power of its membership.

Launched in 2005- AML Global negotiates what it called “truly dynamic” contracts with its suppliers- allowing the company to decrease its fuel prices charged to customers as volume drives down per-gallon costs. The company- based in Hong Kong- boasts offices in Asia- the Americas- British Virgin Islands- Europe- and the Indian Sub-continent.

Its contracts provide access to FBOs around the world. Customers who use AML’s services get billed directly by AML- eliminating issues of invoicing or local credit. The company notes on its website- “We have a unique and compelling simple business model that offers clients a low-cost- independent- on-line fuel buying and trading platform that wraps the buying power of a substantial co-operative with speed- scope and convenience of the internet and SMS/VOIP technology.”

By using high-tech web-based systems for order placement- invoicing and administration- AML Global is a company which has set its sights on being one step ahead. The result for the members can be lower-than-local-average fuel prices almost anywhere in the world.

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Fuel supplier AvFuel works to promote its vendors and its aviation fuels through a number of programs that help create linkage between the FBOs and the pilots who use them. For most pilots and aircraft operators the AVTRIP Rewards program will fit best.

Available at more than 500 FBOs around the country- the AVTRIP Rewards program credits two points to you for every gallon of fuel purchased in the program; and AVTRIP Rewards’ cross-promotion efforts mean the participant can earn points through non-fuel opportunities.

At 5-000 points – the equivalent of 2-500 gallons of fuel – AVTRIP Rewards automatically sends the participant a U.S. Savings Bond worth $50. The bonds continue to earn interest beyond maturity- gaining value over time. Enrollment is available on-line at the AVTRIP Rewards page of the AvFuel website.

More information from

ExxonMobil Aviation's Pilots+ Rewards program makes ease-of-use a top priority. Simply enroll online- through the call center- or at any participating ExxonMobil Aviation- Exxon- or Esso branded FBOs in North America. Once signed-up- earning points is as simple as a Pilots+ Rewards Card swipe concluding your transaction - 5 reward points per gallon in the U.S. and 1.5 reward points per liter in Canada (points are granted on qualifying purchases of aviation fuel at participating dealers in the Continental U.S. and Canada).

Pilots+ Rewards Program members in the U.S. are eligible to receive a $25USD gift card of choice from top national brand retailers such as Nordstrom- Macy's- The Home Depot- and Best Buy for every 20-000 Pilots+ points earned. Visa $25 gift cards are also available in the U.S.

Pilots+ Rewards Program members in Canada become eligible to receive a $25CAD gift card of choice from national brand retailers such as Future Shop- Roots- Best Buy or The Home Depot for every 15-000 points earned.

More information from www.pilotsplusrewards.com

Although the reward points may vary slightly from FBO to FBO- BP Aviation’s Bravo rewards program generally provides two points per gallon of fuel purchased from participating vendors in the U.S. and one point per liter in Canada; bonus points are available through other purchases.

Redemption options are the broadest among the reward programs examined for this story. Spiffs available by redeeming points number 45 million- according to the company – exclusive of travel opportunities and special events that Bravo makes available to members. Home products- furniture- sports items and entertainment and electronics items populate that extensive list.

Bravo’s concierge program will work with you to fulfill special redemption requests and identify the points required to fulfill that request. Enrolment is free- as with most of these programs.

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This organization posts its motto on its home page thus: “Dedicated to enhancing the operating efficiencies of corporate flight departments.”

As a membership organization – complete with a board made up of members- governing documents and the like – the CAA is open to any operator which meets membership requirements and pays the required dues. The requirements are straightforward and simple:

a) The member must operate at least one turbine aircraft;
b) The member may not hold a FAR 135 operating certificate;
c) The member must be a member of the National Business Aviation Association; and
d) The member must have an e-mail address.

The dues schedule starts at a $600 minimum: a per-company $400 fee plus another $200 per aircraft. This schedule gets the member one membership card per aircraft; duplicate cards go for $100.

Where the program comes together is in the special volume-based discounts CAA negotiates for its extensive membership with an exclusive- restricted list of FBOs that have- themselves- qualified to participate in the program.

CAA allows only one preferred FBO per airport – though multiple on-airport locations of one FBO can participate. The resulting discount prices are- according to CAA- deep-enough to make membership costs worthwhile.

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