Panaroma documentary reveals savings achieved by carrying additional fuel on flights could be just over £10 but could create annual emissions of a town of 100,000

British Airways has launched a review into a “fuel tankering” – a practice which saves the airline money but increases greenhouse gas emissions.

The review follows a BBC Panorama investigation exposing the practice, which fills planes with additional fuel to avoid paying higher prices at destination airports. Panorama discovered the practice resulted in BA’s planes generating an extra 18,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide last year.

The industry-wide practice could lead to extra annual emissions equivalent to town of 100,000 people. The BBC has said the Panorama team has seen dozens of internal BA documents that show up to six tonnes of extra fuel have been loaded onto planes in this way. It has also seen evidence that Easyjet also carries extra fuel in this way.

Cost savings can be as small as just over £10

BA has now said that tankering to cut costs “may be the wrong thing to do”. But it added that it uses the practice for safety and operational reasons, including helping planes turn around quickly. According to Panorama, cost savings made on a single flight can be as small as just over £10

Researchers have estimated that one in five of all European airlines’ flights involves some element of fuel tankering.

Critics have said the widespread use of the practice undermines industry claims that it is committed to reducing carbon emissions.John Sauven, Greenpeace UK’s executive director, told the BBC that fuel tankering was a “classic example of a company putting profit before planet”.

“This is why we need government-enforced reduction targets to ensure airlines take responsibility for the damage their emissions are causing,” he said.

BA owner International Airlines Group (IAG) has pledged its commitment to being the world’s leading airline group on sustainability.

Software calculates savings through tankering

BA insiders say the airline, along with others running short haul routes in Europe uses computer software which calculates cost savings through fuel tankering. If there is, crews load up the extra fuel.

An example of documents seen by Panorama show that a recent BA flight to Italy carried nearly three tonnes of extra fuel.

The extra weight meant the plane emitted more than 600kg of additional carbon dioxide – the same emissions one person on a return flight to New York. The cost saving on that trip was less than £40, but Panorama has seen documents that show that it can be even lower than that.

The chief executive of BA’s parent company, IAG, Willie Walsh has announced the airline would carry out a review of the practice.