The most and least fuel efficient U.S. airlines

The biggest guzzler was the most profitable!

Buy the fuel, hold the nuts. Low cost airline Allegiant was the least fuel efficient but the most profitable.

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Rising fuel costs are the bane of airlines. Yet not all U.S. airlines are tackling the problem with equal attempts at fuel efficiency.

In a new study, the International Council on Clean Transportation concluded that "the fuel efficiency gap between the best and worst airlines flying U.S. domestic routes was 26 percent." ICCT looked at efficiency in 15 airlines 2010, and found that five of the country's biggest airlines were among the least efficient - United, Virgin, Delta, US and American. In fact American ranked way down at number 14, just above last placed Allegiant Air (see chart below).

The most efficient? Alaska Airlines.

ICCT attributed the disparity to investments in technologies like winglets and "high bypass ratio engines," as well as to "seating density, percent seat occupancy, and operational practices such as fuel loading and single-engine taxiing."

So those fuel inefficient airlines must have suffered the worst profits, right?

Wrong! ICCT noted:

"Profitability and in-service fuel efficiency were not well correlated. The most profitable airline from 2009 to 2011 was allegiant air, which ranked last in fuel efficiency."

Allegiant, known as a low-cost airline, must be finding more savings than one could imagine from holding back on the nuts. Businessweek noted that the airline relies heavily on 1980s era McDonnell Douglas MD-80 planes, which helps keep capital costs low. Allegiant is planning to purchase more efficient aircraft soon - adding to capital costs but lowering fuel expenditures.

The Airline Fuel Efficiency Standings

Photo from Josh Beasley via Wikimedia. Chart from ICCT.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com