how much does a plane’s fuel cost?

How is the fuel for an airplane? How much? The most popular is aviation kerosene, and there is a surprise regarding its value: gasoline in cars is much more expensive: 67% more than kerosene.

A liter of QAV (aviation kerosene) was sold to the final consumer for an average of R$ 3.787 in October. In the same period, common gasoline used in cars cost R$ 6.341 at the pump. The data are from a national survey by the ANP (National Petroleum Agency). These numbers are an average, and larger and smaller values ​​can be found.

Gasoline from cars is usually more expensive than kerosene from planes. But the difference has been huge in the last two years. In October 2020, the average difference was also high (78%). But in October 2019, it was 48%. In November 2018, it was at 32% (October 2018 is not available on the ANP website).

Aviation fuel is a product surrounded by peculiarities that differentiate it from the fuel used in an automobile. It needs to be able to operate in environments with temperatures ranging from -50°C in flight to over 40°C on the ground, among other characteristics.

Another fuel also used in aviation, but generally in smaller planes, is aviation gasoline (GAV or AVGas), a more processed product with different characteristics than regular gasoline. In October, a liter of it was sold for an average value of R$7,218 to the final consumer.


Although a direct comparison between the two petroleum products is not possible, as the types of by-products are different, it is important to emphasize that aircraft fuel has to pass through stricter production criteria. Its reliability has to be higher, as it is not possible to stop a plane on the side of the road when the engine “chokes”.

It is also necessary to remember that a car has a tank with about 50 liters of capacity, while an Airbus A380, the largest passenger plane in the world, can transport up to 320,000 liters of fuel. Therefore, every penny counts when it comes to lowering the cost of an air operation.

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Truck bomb filling an airplane with fuel in the underground pipeline at the Amsterdam airport (Netherlands)

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The main types of aircraft fuel are kerosene (or, QAV – Aviation Kerosene), gasoline (GAV or AVGas). There is also the use of ethanol, in addition to tests being carried out for airplanes powered by electricity, hydrogen and some sustainable fuels, called SAF (Sustainable Aircraft Fuels, in free translation), which reduce the emission of carbon dioxide from production to burning.

Aviation kerosene is generally used in large commercial aircraft and turboprops, and gasoline in smaller planes such as piston aircraft. Ethanol, like that in cars, in turn, is the fuel for Embraer’s Ipanema agricultural aircraft.

Impact on the value of airline tickets

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Airfare prices do not automatically increase with higher fuel prices

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According to Abear (Brazilian Association of Airline Companies), there is no linear relationship between the increase in fuel prices and the value of the air ticket, there are several factors that influence the formation of this price and each company has its own strategy in this formulation. However, fuel and lubricants represent an average of 30% of the costs of airlines in Brazil, a share that dropped to 25% between 2020 and the first half of 2021 with fewer flights carried out in the period.

This amount, added to others, such as aircraft leasing and maintenance, amount to 50% of the company’s costs and expenses, and all of them are linked to the dollar, which has been breaking consecutive high records. In addition, in Brazil, ICMS (Tax on Circulation of Goods and Services) is charged on fuel for domestic flights within the country, a practice that does not exist in other regions, according to Abear.

According to the association, this explains why an international trip is sometimes cheaper than one within Brazil, considering similar distances. Together, these factors make the cost of fuel in the country around 40% higher than the world average.

Still, aviation kerosene registers an accumulated increase in 2021 greater than that of automobile gasoline and cooking gas (LPG – Liquefied Petroleum Gas). While QAV increased 47.7% between January 4th and October 25th, gasoline increased 43.5% and gas 36.1%. In the following week, the accumulated high of aviation kerosene in 2021 reached 71.1%, according to Abear.

The values ​​registered in the second quarter of 2021 were 91.7% higher compared to the same period in 2020. Thus, even if the increase in fuel prices does not immediately reflect the increase in fares, it weighs on companies that, with time, they must pass it on to the customers.

Impact on long flights is less

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On long flights, fuel consumption represents a smaller share of the total cost of the trip

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The period in which an airplane starts to take off until it reaches its cruising altitude consumes more fuel compared to other stages. Thus, shorter flights, where this time span represents a larger fraction of the flight, tend to be more impacted by the increase in fuel prices.

According to Ruy Amparo, director of safety and flight operations at Abear, longer flights become more efficient for some reasons. One is that planes perform better at higher altitudes, where you can fly faster on the same amount of fuel than if you were flying closer to the ground.

Thus, planes that reach this altitude, considered to be cruising, will be able to save on fuel. “On short flights (such as the Rio-São Paulo airlift, for example), an Airbus A320 does not reach its maximum altitude, while on a flight from Guarulhos (SP) to Fortaleza (CE) it is possible to make a good part of the flight cruising at this altitude to reduce consumption,” says Amparo.

In this same sense, large air terminals, such as São Paulo, have departure and arrival routes from airports that are not in a straight line with the flight destinations, making it necessary to make some turns and fly a little more to reach the destination. “On a short flight, this higher induced consumption weighs more than on a longer flight”, says Amparo.

In this way, longer flights always end up consuming less fuel in the average hour of flight than shorter flights, which, in the event of an increase in the QAV, could end up reflecting on the value of the ticket.

Can gasoline from the car be used on the plane?

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It is not recommended to change the fuel of the plane for the car and vice versa

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Gasoline in a car has some fundamental differences from that used in an airplane. Although there are studies to use car fuel in some types of smaller planes, the two liquids are distinguished by the amount of lead present in each one and by the octane rating, which is, in a simplified way, the ability to resist compression inside the engine. .

In the case of the plane, there is more lead present and the octane rating is higher, which makes it impossible to use it properly in a car, as it could damage some components. Otherwise, gasoline from automobiles may eventually not perform satisfactorily in an airplane, putting the safety of the flight at risk.

As for kerosene, nowadays it is difficult to see any vehicle using this fuel, restricting itself more to gasoline. However, aviation kerosene is quite different from that used to clean the house.

Jet engines, such as jets and turboprops, use the QAV, which is subdivided into a few types. The main ones are JET A and JET A1, which have some differences in terms of freezing point. More common in Brazil, JET A1 has a freezing point at -47º C, while JET A freezes at -40º C.

This number is important, considering that a large commercial aircraft usually flies with an external temperature that can reach -50º C. The JET A is still being studied to be implemented in Brazil, which could increase the fuel supply aviation and eventually lower its price.

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Details of the composition of costs and expenses of Brazilian airlines in the 1st half of 2021

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