A British Airways whistleblower has revealed an industry practice that deliberately adds weight to thefts and increases greenhouse gas emissions.
"Refueling", airplanes are filled with extra fuel, usually to avoid paying higher prices for refueling at destination airports.
This could mean additional annual emissions equivalent to those of a large city.
BA stated that it was common to carry extra fuel for "operational, safety and price reasons".
BBC Panorama found that the airline's aircraft had generated an additional 18,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide last year through refueling.
The savings on a single flight can rise to just over £ 10 – even if savings can reach several hundred pounds.
The researchers estimated that one out of every five European flights had an element of refueling.
The practice on European roads could lead to additional annual greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to those produced by a city of 100,000 inhabitants.
Critics say that the widespread use of this practice undermines the aviation industry's claims that it is committed to reducing its carbon emissions.
John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK, told the BBC that it was "a classic example of a company putting profits before the planet".
He added: "That's why we can not afford another decade to believe in an eco-business and wait for voluntary carbon cuts.
"We need strict regulations to limit aviation emissions, because as long as there is money in the pollution, they will pollute as much as they do." can. "
International Airlines Group (IAG), the company owning BA, says it wants to position itself as the world's leading aviation group for sustainable development.
BA even boasts of printing his onboard magazine on lighter paper to gain weight.
Still, BBC Panorama has seen dozens of BA internal documents indicating that up to six tons of additional fuel have been loaded into aircraft in this manner. It has also been shown that Easyjet carries more fuel in this way.
Airlines can save money because the price of aviation fuel differs between European destinations.
BA insiders said the company – like many airlines operating short haul routes in Europe – has software that calculates whether costs can be saved by fuel transportation.
The software will calculate whether there is a saving to be made. If this is the case, the teams charge extra fuel.
An example of documents seen by Panorama shows that a recent BA flight to Italy had carried nearly three tons of fuel moreover.
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The extra weight meant that the plane had emitted over 600 kg of additional carbon dioxide – the same emissions a person is responsible for when flying back to New York.
The savings on this trip were less than £ 40, but the documents that Panorama has seen show that it can be even lower.
IAG achieved an annual profit of 2.9 billion euros in 2018, 80% of which came from BA.
One BA insider described this practice as "hypocritical".
"For a company of this size, trying to save such sums while emitting so much extra CO2 seems unjustifiable in the current climate," he said.
BA said it was common for the airline industry to carry extra fuel on some flights.
The airline has indicated for BA that this mainly concerns nearby destinations "where price differences between European airports are considerable".
According to research conducted by Eurocontrol, the airline's additional emissions accounted for around 2% of the total additional emissions generated by all oil companies in Europe.
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BA pointed out that since 2012, all flights in Europe are covered by the European emission trading scheme.
He added that from 2020, the company will offset all CO2 emissions from its UK domestic flights.
Easyjet stated that it has reduced the number of tankers in recent years and that this only occurs on a very small proportion of flights for operational and commercial reasons.
Eurocontrol, the body that coordinates air traffic control in Europe, has calculated that in Europe, an additional 286,000 tonnes of fuel is burned each year and an additional 901,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide is emitted.
It calculates that this practice has saved airlines a total of € 265 million a year.
Eurocontrol described the practice as "dubious" at a time when aviation is challenged for its contribution to climate change.
But BA's whistleblower said, "I have been a BA employee for a long time.
"I'm very proud to be part of BA, but honestly, it makes me sad and disappointed."
Panorama: Can we fly in green? is on BBC1 at 20:30 GMT on November 11th.