How U.S. Airlines Are Hoping Ozempic Can Save Them Money

The rapid increase in the use of weight loss drugs is expected to have a huge impact on many sectors, not least the airline industry—where lighter passengers might allow planes to take off with less fuel.

Ozempic, Wegovy, Rybelsus, Mounjaro and the new cheaper entry into the market, Zepbound are the controversial weight loss drugs being taken in their millions. In 2022, more than 5 million prescriptions were issued for Wegovy (an increase of over 2,000% over the previous four-years). In the last quarter of 2022, 9 million prescriptions were handed out in the U.S. alone, as reported by CNBC. And there’s no reason to think the trend will stop—in order to keep the weight off, people need to keep taking the drug.

Originally designed as a medication to treat Type 2 diabetes, the side effects of staggering weight loss (because of its appetite suppressant) are encouraging many people to take the drug. For the newly FDA-approved Zepbound, trials showed that patients lost 18% of body weight compared to those taking the placebo.

Many believe that these weight loss drugs will have a revolutionary impact on many industries, both positively and negatively. For example, some analysts are predicting a decline in snack food sales. After all, who needs to snack on sugary or salty foods when they don’t need to eat, period? In fact, it might radically change the diet industry forever, where according to The Wall Street Journal, the $76 billion sector is radically rethinking its plans due to their arrival.

However, one sector that could radically benefit from increased use of the drug is the airline industry. The holy grail for an airline is to save running costs, something that every plane journey fights against in terms of delays. Unlike dealing with daily political crises and having to reroute plans around war zones, for instance, this might be one area where petrol costs can be spared if people were just a little lighter.

Sheila Kahyaoglu, a Jefferies Financial analyst said in a recent report, that if passengers were only 10 pounds lighter, United Airlines as an example, could save $80 million each year on fuel costs. As the report highlighted, the two biggest costs for airlines are fuel and labor—fuel accounts for around a quarter of the cost. If people were lighter, the plane would need less fuel to carry them. It’s important because airlines have already cut back on as much weight as they possibly can, using lighter materials in their drinks and snacks, and stopping inflight magazines.

The CDC currently estimates that one in three adults and one in five children are obese in the U.S., so a decrease in the weight of an average American, would lead to a big bonus for airlines. Also, it would help airlines counteract any increases in jet fuel costs—according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics and Airlines for America, every 10 cent increase in a gallon of jet fuel costs leads to a $2 billion annual bill for airlines, according to 2023 estimates. And while it’s a tricky business to determine a plane’s carbon emissions (routes, climate and fuel all play a part) it can never be a bad thing when less fuel might also mean lower carbon emissions.

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