The large-scale study, which incorporated data from more than 40,000 unique flights, found significant savings in carbon emissions and monetary costs when airline captains were provided with tailored monthly information on fuel efficiency, along with targets and individualized feedback. The behavioral effects of such interventions are currently estimated as the most cost-effective way to prevent a metric ton of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.
This is what the study (hidden behind a paywall) had to say for itself:
Understanding motivations in the workplace remains of utmost import as economies around the world rely on increases in labor productivity to foster sustainable economic growth. This study makes use of a unique opportunity to “look under the hood” of an organization that critically relies on worker effort and performance. By partnering with Virgin Atlantic Airways on a field experiment that includes over 40,000 unique flights covering an eight-month period, we explore how information and incentives affect captains’ performance. Making use of more than 110,000 captain-level observations, we find that our set of treatments—which include performance information, personal targets, and prosocial incentives—induces captains to improve efficiency in all three key flight areas: pre-flight, in-flight, and post-flight. We estimate that our treatments saved between 266,000-704,000 kg of fuel for the airline over the eight-month experimental period.
Unless Virgin Atlantic Flight Operations is hopelessly negligent, this cannot possibly be true.
At my airline, flight plans specify the most economical available altitude and airspeed. Flight Management Systems are exquisitely tuned to use the best power setting for takeoff and climb, and are equally focused on attaining the best descent profile.
The Flight Operations Manual sets out criteria for Auxiliary Power Unit usage, single engine taxi, speeds and configurations on departure, and energy management on arrival.
All of this is backed up by frequent line checks, quality assurance observations, and continuous data downlinks.
The requirements and guidance are clear; the only variable is pilots' skill in achieving them within the context of the operational environment.
Spoiler alert: performance information, personal targets and prosocial incentives — uhh, oh never mind — have nothing to do with that.
Which is why I'm quite certain this is the last anyone will hear of this seminal! study!