How and why pilots dump fuel

When watching your aircraft being prepared for flight, the last thing you imagine for what will happen to the fuel is for it to be dumped overboard a short while later. However, for a very small number of flights every year, this is exactly what happens.

Before each departure, the pilots carefully decide how much fuel they will need to safely complete the flight. However, there are occasions where having too much fuel can be a problem.

Why size and weight is important

Max Take Off Weight and Max Landing Weight

Before each flight, we will discuss the weight of the aircraft. This will include the planned takeoff weight and also the weight at which the aircraft is expected to be on arrival at the destination.

On takeoff, a fully-laden 787-9 Dreamliner can weigh anything up to 254 tonnes. This is known as the Maximum Take Off Weight (MTOW). However, to prevent excessive stress to the airframe on landing, there is also a Maximum Landing Weight (MLW) — 192 tonnes. 

If the aircraft has a high load of passengers or cargo, it may not reach the MLW until well into the flight. If the planned landing weight at destination is very close to the MLW, there is very little scope to add more fuel for bad weather or to take extra cargo.

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