Uncommon Winds Challenge Long Haul Carriers

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The speed of prevailing winds over the North Atlantic trended higher in December than in recent history and that has led to some complications for United Continental airlines' Boeing 757s. Last year, when flying west over the North Atlantic, the airline landed twelve jets short of their destination because high winds slowed the jets' progress and ate into reserves. Last month, the carrier landed 43 flights out of 1,100 to refuel, a spokeswoman told the Boston Globe, and 57 flights were affected over a five-week period. Those jets are generally flying routes on full tanks.

The winds have affected United Continental flights operated with Boeing 757-200 jets, mainly flying the 4,540 miles between Stuttgart and Newark. The airlines modified the jets years ago with winglets and carbon brakes to help the jets fuel burn. Continental's winglet installations added 200 nautical miles in range, according to the airline. "We're looking into this very closely," United Continental's Megan McCarthy said. The FAA reviewed an increase in fuel stops made at Newark back in 2008 from jets flying other routes. It found no cases in which jets landed with fuel levels that fell below minimum requirements. The agency said Wednesday that it will now be looking into the recent increase of fuel-related stops involving the 757. The carrier may be looking at reductions in passenger loads and extra fuel tanks to combat the problem.