Over the years we have heard several people in the commercial aviation industry cast aspersions on the US DoT data sources.  Having modeled a lot of the agency’s data we have developed a “feel” for the data.  Our experience is that, by and large, the data is useful and remains the most granular public source of its kind anywhere.

So imagine our surprise when we noticed an anomaly.  In the often criticized Form 41, there is a database called P5.2 which tracks airline costs. It is very useful to see how the US industry weathered negative impacts over the years.  This is a low-margin business, and even with consolidation, US airlines have to marshall their resources very carefully. P5.2 gives us a window on how they have been doing this.

Take a look at the following model.  The data is through 3Q21.  Remember to click the double-headed arrow at the bottom right to optimize the view.

Page 1: Here you see the industry’s overall primary costs. Select an airline to see how each one is doing. 

Page 2: Now the fun part, focusing on direct maintenance per hour. Here you also select an airline to see its performance. 

When you got to Delta Air Lines on page 2 did you notice something odd?

How is it that Delta’s entire fleet costs about $800 per hour in maintenance/hour? If you didn’t notice the nearly straight line, go back and click through the airlines to see this.  Based on the other airlines’ numbers, Delta’s numbers are, well, implausible.  We showed this to the DoT and they were surprised.  They had not noticed this.

The software allows for some neat views – for example clicking on the 757-200 we see its maintenance costs hour over the period.  The costs were variable and, magically, they went to the fleet average in 2020.  Would you think that the 757-200’s aging improved its maintenance costs?   Click the A321 and watch its numbers. Could this relatively new aircraft have seen a spike in costs in 2020 and 2021? (Check A321s at American and JetBlue for a guide) Now try Delta’s 737-800 – get the idea? 

C’mon man, fix this.

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Co-Founder AirInsight. My previous life includes stints at Shell South Africa, CIC Research, and PA Consulting. Got bitten by the aviation bug and ended up an Avgeek. Then the data bug got me, making me a curious Avgeek seeking data-driven logic. Also, I appreciate conversations with smart people from whom I learn so much. Summary: I am very fortunate to work with and converse with great people.

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