In an effort to cut their costs, several European airlines are opting for longer routes over the Atlantic to cut down on air traffic control fees, according to the BBC.
The report says the airlines Thomas Cook and Monarch regularly take longer routes to avoid higher fees on flights to the Canary Islands.
A route known as the “tango route” — which adds 100 miles to the Canary Island route –can produce an extra three tons of carbon dioxide. The airlines say they use the routes to avoid air traffic congestion and maintain schedules.
In a month long investigation, the BBC monitored 44 Thomas Cook flights from Manchester, Newcastle and Birmingham flying to-and-from the Canary Islands.
Flying over French, Spanish and Portugal airspace costs $3,256.67 USD.
Tango route expenses come to $1997 — which, allowing for the extra fuel costs, means the airlines saves $204 per flight.
“There are parts of Europe which are cheaper to fly over than other parts,” said one unidentified airline pilot. “So you can lengthen a flight by maybe fifteen minutes or more to avoid expensive bits of airspace.
“To get into the tango routes you have to fly out over Ireland,” the pilot added.
A former airline operations director, shown 44 flight plans, determined avoiding fees is the only operational reason to fly the longer routes.
“The overall trend is that there is a high proportion of flights taking ocean routes when there was no clear wind advantage to do so,” the unidentified director said. “I would hazard a guess that over flight charges may have been factored into these routings, owing to the disproportionately higher cost of the direct routing. I can understand why this might be done.
“The tango routes are quieter, and are less likely to suffer slot restrictions. Airlines may be able to benefit from more punctual schedules. Schedule punctuality is really important for the charters.”
Andy Farrar, a navigations expert, calculated a trip and the fuel usage on the tango route from Manchester to Tenerife and compared it with an imaginary direct flight.
“The flight which flew over the ocean used 14.7 tons of fuel and took four hours 17 minutes,” said Farrar of Air Data, based in Gatwick. “The direct route would have used 13.1 tons and have been shorter at three hours 57 minutes.”
Climate expert at the University of Sussex, Mari Martiskainen, said the extra fuel would produce three additional tons of CO2 per flight.
“That’s equal to the amount of CO2 emitted by 150 car journeys between London and Brighton,” she said.
And that, in turn, appears to indicate the actions of some airlines may run counter to their published environmental policies.
“Thomas Cook Airlines can confirm that it does operate routes to the Canary Islands, which include using tango routes, said the German-owned company. “These routes are used when they are the most efficient and when it is necessary to avoid lengthy air traffic control delays caused by airspace congestion in European airspace,” said a company spokesperson.
“On the Thomas Cook Airlines flights that used tango routes between the 2nd and 16th November 2007, fuel was saved on more than 75 per cent of these flights.”
Monarch, a Luton-based airline admits using the tango routes to avoid paying over flight charges, and to maintain schedules.
“By traveling via these Oceanic routes, the company avoids paying French and/or Spanish over flight charges and instead pays a much smaller Oceanic airspace over flight charge to the UK and Ireland,” said a Monarch spokesperson.
“However, this over flight cost saving has to be balanced against the additional mileage which increases both the flight time and fuel-related costs.
“In a highly competitive marketplace, where customers demand increasingly low fares, we have to manage our costs as tightly as possible.
“Ultimately the environmental impact comes down to whether the traveling public is prepared to pay,” the spokesperson said.