Cathay Pacific

Airlines turn water into whine

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 18 August, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 18 August, 2001, 12:00am

Here's a tale about drinking water on airlines.

During a recent flight in business class on KLM between Dubai and Amsterdam a passenger asked the stewardess for a small bottle of drinking water.

The stewardess told the passenger that, because of cost-cutting measures, she was not allowed to distribute these bottles on flights with a scheduled flying time of eight hours and 30 minutes.

However, as a special favour she said she would make an exception to this rule and returned after two minutes with a bottle of water.

On another KLM flight in economy class from Delhi to Amsterdam a stewardess told the same passenger that she did not have any bottles of water.

The only water available was tap water which the airline had picked up from Delhi.

The passenger tasted the water and was able to confirm an hour later after repeated trips to the bathroom that it was in fact Indian tap water he had been given.

While studying KLM's latest annual report, our passenger found out the real reason for the water shortage on board the carrier's aircraft.

KLM is very concerned about the environment and because of this wants to reduce the quantity of drinking water on its flights.

According to the annual report, one way of doing this is to 'optimise drinking water in aircraft'.

The target is a saving of five per cent a year.

However, during the 2000-2001 financial year it managed a saving of only 4.5 per cent, half a percentage point short of target.

Our passenger discovered that the quantity of water carried by KLM over the past 12 months amounted to 127,500 cubic metres.

Divide this figure by the number of passenger kilometres (60.047 million) and you get just over 0.002 litres per kilometre or, two litres per passenger per 1,000 kilometres.

However, not all the water carried is for consumption and a large portion will be used for washing and flushing.

During the annual shareholders meeting, our passenger called upon the KLM president to let the water run freely again.

Unfortunately, an answer was not forthcoming.

At the same meeting another shareholder asked if the company could please put more drinking water in the reception area, because at the previous year's AGM all drinking water was finished in 10 minutes.

Of course, what KLM fails to mention is that by reducing the amount of water an aircraft carries the airline can save money on fuel costs as the aircraft becomes lighter.

The airline has managed to steadily reduce the amount of drinking water it carries from 162,374 cubic metres in 1998 to 127,500 cubic metres last year.

But the problem with reducing the amount of drinking water available is that passengers are more likely to bring their own when they fly.

Therefore making the aircraft heavier again.

According to British Airways' Social and Environmental report 2001, toilets, staff catering and airplane washing have the highest demand for water consumption.

By recycling water, the airline has managed to reduce water consumption by up to 55 per cent at Heathrow and Gatwick. Which is how the airline can still manage to save money without pilfering the passenger's drinking water.

A glance through Cathay Pacific Airways' latest environmental report, Cathay Pacific Commitment for the '90s , on the airline's Web site reveals the company is also doing its bit for water conservation.

Albeit this was in the previous millennium. The company admits that there is room for improvement in reducing the waste-water discharge.

It is exploring more effective bio-chemical methods for flush water and removal of odour.

Which is good news because it means you can still get a glass of water on board a Cathay Pacific flight to Amsterdam.