In the commercial side, who determines the fuel load required for any given flight?

The PIC/Captain? Company/Airline? FBO/Airport?


1 Answer 1


Disclaimer: this answer applies to airlines (operating under 14 CFR 121) but does not encompass all of commercial aviation.

The dispatcher that is working your flight plans the routing and determines the minimum fuel required from takeoff to destination to furthest alternate with additional fuel as required by regulation you operate under. On top of this, contingency fuel is added which can account for enroute diversions, cruising at a different altitude, un-forecast winds, holding, etc. The total of this fuel is the "release fuel" and you cannot takeoff below this number. On top of this, extra fuel will be added for taxi time.

Ultimately, it is the captain's responsibility to decide how much fuel is needed. For slight increases, airline policy may allow captain's discretion to add fuel. For larger increases in the fuel order you generally need to call the dispatcher and amend the release -- after convincing the dispatcher you need the fuel. If you decide you need less fuel (e.g. less contingency fuel) you always need to amend the release so you can legally take off.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Don't forget that "commercial" flights encompass more than just 121 carriers. Many commercial flights don't even have a dispatcher that works at their company. :) $\endgroup$
    – Lnafziger
    Jun 25, 2015 at 20:40
  • $\begingroup$ I know this thread is really old but maybe you will answer. Can you explain to what degree the person calculating fuel takes into account the number of passengers and weight of cargo? Would they say something like "Flight 123 is only half-full today, let's reduce fuel by XXX", or perhaps "Flight 123 has 114 passengers, times the standard weight of X equals Y, so we need Z pounds of fuel today", or perhaps this is not even considered? I am talking about big-airline type operations here. Thanks. $\endgroup$
    – GregT
    Nov 20, 2018 at 17:50
  • $\begingroup$ @GregT disptach determines the minimum fuel amount and the release number they provide is a hard minimum to take off with, though you can call your dispatcher and negotiate within legal boundaries. The fuel order they put in takes into account many things and some computer program determines how many pounds of fuel it'll take to takeoff, make an attempt at landing, go land at our alternate and then circle for 45 minutes for the given parameters. That then becomes our release number, and the dispatcher generally adds a bit more to account for taxi and some contingency fuel. $\endgroup$
    – casey
    Nov 21, 2018 at 21:26
  • $\begingroup$ @GregT The flight planners (and their system) would work out the optimal flight plan and fuel load based on the pax, weight and other parameters like CoG. The recommended fuel load was presented to the pilots in the flight plan and loadsheet. The crew would then amend the fuel uplift based on their own understanding of WX etc. If they wanted more fuel above the loadsheet's tolerances, they would be told they needed a new plan and load sheet, and this would be created by the flight planners. In Australia at least, the captain's discretion was paramount, and not subject to questioning. $\endgroup$
    – Pete855217
    Mar 13, 2019 at 14:41

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