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Calgary-based WestJet on March 20 operated the first revenue flight of one of its 737-700 aircraft with Aero Design Labs’ drag reduction kit installed. The modified 737 took off from Calgary International Airport (YYC) and flew to Toronto Pearson (YYZ).
WestJet first announced it was partnering with Fort Worth, Texas-based Aero Design Labs (ADL) in August 2022 to assist with the certification and validation of ADL’s proprietary Aerodynamic Drag Reduction System (ADRS 1) kit. The kit, which ADL has been developing since 2017, is intended to address areas of interference drag around the fuselage that have either previously been ignored, or only partially treated over the life of the aircraft. The kit ultimately reduces the amount of drag on the aircraft, resulting in fuel cost savings of roughly $12,000 per month. That is based on an average of $3 per gallon. Moreover, it is capable of reducing over 40 tons of CO2 per aircraft per month, said ADL in a press release.
The drag reduction kit, which is mainly composite, consists of modified fairing on the wings, fuselage, wing tips, and landing gear; revised aerodynamics around the air outlet duct of the environmental control system package; and several strategically placed vortex generators, the engineering company said.
While the kit itself weighs around 180 pounds, it results in a net gain of 110 lb on the aircraft once it replaces the original structure on the airframe. According to ADL, each kit requires roughly 150 hours of labor to install.
So far, WestJet is the second airline to operate a revenue flight with the kit installed, with Southwest Airlines becoming the first in early March. WestJet’s achievement comes just months after the ADRS 1 kit received a Transport Canada supplemental type certificate for installation on the Boeing 737-700 in December 2022. The ADRS 1 kit achieved FAA certification in August 2022.
“All of us at Aero Design Labs are grateful to WestJet and their teams who were pivotal in the testing and ultimate certification of our drag reduction kit,” said Chris Jones, ADL’s chief commercial officer. “Together, we look forward to validating the reduced fuel burn and increased CO2 avoidance our kits provide.”
Jones noted that ADL will continue gathering data from ongoing flights, and will “continue to build on the momentum of airlines installing our kits and a further understanding of the reduced fuel burn and CO2 emissions our customers are achieving.”
WestJet COO Diederik Pen said the airline intends to continue working with ADL to “validate data to determine further fleet implementation plans.”
In the meantime, ADL has selected a team of manufacturing and distribution companies to industrialize the kit. Aerospace manufacturing and repair firm Nordam will produce the bulk of production kits, with support from manufacturer LA Composite of Czechia — which partnered with WestJet to make the initial parts for the testing program. ADL said it expects Nordam to produce 92 kits per month to start. The kits are then to be distributed by Illinois-based aviation services company AAR.
While ADL’s initial focus was on the 737-700, the company also has plans to introduce drag reduction kits for the larger 737-800 and -900 models. In November 2022, ADL entered a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Delta Air Lines to certify the kit on the two aforementioned models. The certification program on the 737-800 is currently underway, with the 737-900 to follow in the second half of 2023. As part of the MOU, Delta has the option to purchase up to 211 ADRS kits.
I want to add to the kit
But what do the kits cost to install? You mention 12K a month in fuel savings, which is great, but at what cost?
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