Wingtips: every little helps

Environmental Technology

Wingtips are small devices that have become increasingly popular in recent years to their remarkable abilities to increase fuel efficiency, reduce drag and help aircraft use less engine power.

Despite the different names various quarters have attributed them (Boeing’s ‘winglets’ and Airbus’ ‘sharklets’), wingtip devices help all airlines reduce their environmental impact whilst saving on their fuel bill. They do so by reducing fuel consumption and emissions, as well as noise pollution during take-off and approach. On average, these small devices save airlines up to 4% in fuel consumption, 6% in noise reduction and 8% in NOx emissions reduction.

So far, wingtip devices have been retro-fitted to over 5,000 aircraft which has led to the industry saving an impressive 15 billion litres of jet fuel. For example, the decision of Alaska Airlines to install winglets on its Boeing Next Generation 737 fleet in October last year is estimated to have saved the company 58,000 gallons of fuel a year per aircraft, cut the airline’s emissions by 57,000 tonnes and reduced its fuel bill by $20 million annually.

Another airline which has implemented the technology is United Airlines, the first airline to fly commercially with Boeing’s new split scimitar winglets. United has committed itself to retrofitting its 737-800 and 737-900ER aircraft with split scimitar winglets and already has 350 aircraft fitted with Boeing’s blended winglets. The combined effect of all its wingtip devices is estimated to be an impressive saving of 65 million gallons of fuel a year, equivalent to 645,000 tonnes of CO2 and $200 million in fuel costs.

Lastly, Airbus launched its sharklet retrofit programme for the in-service A320 family which is an initiative that could radically reduce airline emissions. This is because each installation performed on the 4000 aircraft eligible for the retrofitting programme saves up to 900 tonnes of CO2 a year.

Of course, there are wingtip devices also installed on the new generations of aircraft, either in the form of raked wingtips for the Boeing 787 and 747-8 aircraft, or the impressive curved wingtips of the Airbus A350XWB.

In the future, the plans to extend the retrofitting programme to other aircraft families and the installation as standard on new models, will only increase the proliferation of wingtip devices.