Increasing the fuel efficiency of a commercial jet doesn’t have to mean reworking the entire fuel system. Airlines like United have been installing simple winglets onto their existing fleet, which helps to manage air flow and make for an easier ride. The wing extensions can help the airline save up to $200 million in fuel costs each year, making for a simple and effective way to cut down on fuel.
Jutting out from the end of each wing like an extra fin, the winglets help to smooth the passage of air around the body of the plane, cutting down on the turbulent flow and cutting drag- two things that lead to more fuel consumption. The perpendicular add ons are incredibly cost effective, only requiring the initial installation cost, and require little maintenance.
As winglet designs improve, so does fuel efficiency. United Airlines has just unveiled an even more advanced Scimitar design by Aviation Partners Boeing that not only has the upturned wing feature, but also a ventral strake at the bottom of the plane for even more turbulent air diversion. United says that with the winglet, fuel consumption will improve by 1.8 percent, a figure that may seem low, but over the life of a plane will save millions of dollars. With the new Scimitar winglet, which is currently being tested, United estimates a savings of a whopping $200 million per year. If the testing goes as planned, the airline’s 737 fleet will be upgraded in 2014.