How The 1973 Oil Crisis Sparked A Fuel-Efficiency Movement

The oil crisis in the 1970s first started in October 1973 after the members of the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC) proclaimed an oil embargo. This move had a profound impact on the aviation industry due to the price of jet fuel skyrocketing. As a result, airlines were driven to become more efficient.

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Lufthansa is one of many airlines that noticed a significant change. Photo: Lufthansa Group

A massive shift

ICAO reports that the price of oil price increased by 400% following the embargo. The following year, the ICAO Council approved a series of recommendations for states to undertake amid the crisis.

The group suggested the examination of the air navigation and air traffic control procedures over their territories in order to reduce flying distances and air traffic delays as much as possible. It also urged to achieve maximum coordination on fuel supply to ensure that the operation of air services be maintained at the level required in the public interest. Additionally, IACO requested to give priority to commercial air transport where restrictions on aviation fuel supply have to be imposed.

According to an official presentation, IACO summarized its recommendations with the following:

“Refrain, on a basis of reciprocity, from discrimination against airlines of other countries in the distribution of available fuel at their own airports; and Consider favourably proposals by airlines of special measures requiring government approval such as amendments to schedules, limitation of frequencies or consolidation of routes, where motivated by the fuel crisis.”

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There needed to be a new approach to flying. Photo: Getty Images

Airlines directly impacted

Lufthansa Technik shares how the oil crisis affected the flag carrier of Germany. In February 1973, the airline accepted its 100th Boeing jet, which was a 727. However, by the end of the year, the company had to be more particular about which flights its new addition conducted.

Ultimately, Lufthansa has to cancel and merge its flights. The firm highlights that the oil crisis pushed manufacturers to produce more fuel-efficient jet engines.

Following the retirement of the old guard, new Lufthansa leaders Reinhardt Abraham and Dr. Alban Rupp had the task of overcoming the challenges. Altogether, the crisis stalled the German economic progress and in 1974 there was at least a 6% decline in Lufthansa customers.

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Aircraft are now far more efficient than their predecessors. Photo: Getty Images

Transforming the industry

According to The New York Times, As the crisis became more severe, the airline industry switched to bigger planes with seats packed closer together. Also, services not garnering enough passengers were no longer in action. Moreover, several airlines stopped painting their jets and reduced copies of their inflight magazine to save weight.

Today, the aviation industry is one of the most efficient of all the energy-intensive industries across the globe. Gal Luft of the Institute for the Analysis of Global security emphasizes that planes made at the turn of the century were 70% more fuel-efficient than those three decades before. The market was able to increase its fuel efficiency by around 1% a year for three decades since the 1970s. This figure translates to a saving of about 80,000 gallons of fuel for every aircraft every year.

This progress is a result of the factors brought on by the 1973 oil crisis. There was a need to be more efficient. If the industry didn’t adapt, it could have collapsed. Altogether, the adoption of modern technology, improved air traffic control, and better habits helped the market evolve.

What are your thoughts about the impact of the 1973 oil crisis? Did you notice any other changes in the industry during this period? Let us know what you think in the comment section.