British Airways has defended fuel tankering as “common practice” across the airline industry ahead of tonight’s BBC TV Panorama programme on the issue.

A BBC investigation claims fuel tankering, in which aircraft are filled with extra fuel, produces extra annual emissions equivalent in some cases “to those of a large town”.

Tonight’s Can Flying Go Green? documentary claims that the reason for fuel tankering is usually to avoid paying higher prices for refuelling at destination airports.

BBC Panorama has found BA’s aircraft generated an additional 18,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide last year as a result of fuel tankering and that one in five of all European flights involve some element of fuel tankering.

The programme will claim that while savings could be as small as just over £10, the additional greenhouse gas emissions can be the same as that produced by a town of 100,000 people.

BA, the first airline in the UK to commit to offsetting all domestic flights from 2020, has responded to the findings by saying there are a number of different reasons for carrying extra fuel, and that most airlines in Europe do it.

In a statement it said: “It’s common practice across the airline industry to carry additional fuel on some flights due to operational, safety and price reasons.

“For British Airways this applies to mainly short-haul destinations where there are considerable fuel price differences between European airports.

“Based on research published by Eurocontrol’s Aviation Intelligence Unit, the additional CO2 emissions from British Airways represents approximately 2% of the total extra emissions generated by all airlines tankering fuel in Europe.

“The practice contributes less than 0.1% of the airline’s total carbon emissions. Since 2012 flights within Europe are covered by the EU emissions trading system (EU ETS) and from 2020 British Airways will offset all CO2 emissions from its UK domestic flights.”

Reasons other than price for fuel tankering can be because flights are to a small island, where supplies are limited; if there are tight aircraft turnaround times; for safety reasons, including if an aircraft has to be diverted or circle an airport; or if there are strikes by airport staff or fuellers.

BA’s parent company International Airlines Group recently announced it is the first airline group in the world to commit to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

IAG is also investing $400 million in sustainable fuel development, investing in more fuel-efficient aircraft with 44 already flying and 73 on order, and is the first airline in Europe to build a facility which converts household and commercial waster into renewable sustainable jet fuel to power its fleet.

tw4