Why winglets reduce aircraft drag and improve fuel efficiency

Teresa Cederholm - Author

Jul. 3 2014, Published 9:00 a.m. ET

Why winglets matter to investors

The wings of an aircraft generate the lift to hold the aircraft when it pushes through the air, as we saw in the last article of this series.

  • Airlines use winglets on the tip of an aircraft’s wings to reduce drag, and the turbine engines below the wings provide thrust to overcome drag and accelerate the aircraft.
  • Improved takeoff performance allows a steeper climb and lower thrust settings, which extend engine life and reduce maintenance costs.
  • By reducing drag, fuel burn is also reduced and the aircraft lift-to-drag ratio improves by 6%–9%, according to Whitcomb’s research.
  • Apart from this advantage, winglets also reduce carbon monoxide and nitrous oxide emissions by 4%–5%.

The cost of a winglet ranges from $600,000 to $2,350,000 per aircraft, and because of rising fuel costs, winglets have resulted in significant cost savings (as shown in the table below). Aviation Partners Boeing (APB) estimates that over the past ten years, it has sold 7,000 blended winglet systems and has saved 4.1 billion gallons of fuel for airlines worldwide.

United is the first airline to fly with the new Split Scimitar winglets

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United has partnered with Aviation Partners Boeing (APB) to launch the Split Scimitar winglet. The new winglet is expected to save more than 45,000 gallons of fuel per aircraft per year when installed on 737-800 aircraft. In 1Q14, United used the new winglet in 737-800 aircraft and expects to install it on more than 80 aircraft by the end of 2014. The winglet costs $555,000, and United (UAL), Alaska (ALK), and Southwest (LUV) are the first few customers of this new winglet. All United’s other peers, including Delta (DAL), American Airlines (AAL), and JetBlue (JBLU), use standard winglets for fuel efficiency.


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