The adage is an airplane does not make money on the ground. If this is true then ground time is not only lost revenue, it is also added cost.

Among the big three US airlines, we see that typically the Airbus single-aisle fleet has a shorter total ground time than the equivalent Boeing fleet. Among the airlines shown, Delta is a clear operational winner with the lowest total ground times.

Looking at airline operational data from FlightRadar24 (aircraft reporting, not airline reporting) and focusing on turnaround time among the big three US airlines we see the following. A word on the data. We removed ground times over 180 minutes, so overnights and significant maintenance delays were excluded.

The chart is rather busy but does provide a fair picture of one might expect that larger aircraft take longer to get back into the air.

This data table summarizes the numbers for the chart. The column showing records reflects the number of readings we have for that airline/aircraft combination. As a guide, a random sample with 270 records should provide a confidence level of 95% +/- 6%. A random sample of 384 provides a confidence level of 95% +/- 5%. The number of records in our data varies considerably.

Yet there are some surprises too.

• American’s A320 performance is stellar. But American’s A320 sample size is low, which makes the result questionable.
• Delta’s A321 total low total ground time is impressive compared to the 757-200s even though it has more seats.
• Overall, Delta appears to have the lowest total ground time among the various single-aisle models.

The following chart illustrates that American’s A320 numbers are likely on the low side.

However, what we find interesting here is that for the airlines shown, the A320 fleet has a lower total ground time than Boeing 737-800s. Another item to consider is how these aircraft are being utilized. The following table illustrates airborne revenue hours for 3Y18 for these types for each airline. The Boeing fleet flies longer legs. The differences between the two types suggests they are interchangeable.

Since fleet costs, both capital and operational, and labor costs are roughly equal for all airlines. In an oligopoly, the ultimate winner is the participant with the lowest costs of production. There is a strong argument that improving ground operations makes a big impact on an airline’s operating costs.

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Addison Schonland
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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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