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Punctuality pays off: why airports should improve their on-time performance

25 Apr 2019
Improving on-time performance is key for airports that want to gain competitive advantage. How to go about it?

The air traffic market is growing fast, causing our skies to be more crowded than ever. As of recently, this has started to affect the operational performance of airlines: more and more flights are arriving and departing too late . Therefore, not only airlines, but airports, too, should consider ways to improve their on-time performance – that is, if they want to stay competitive.

In this blog, we would like to explain the basics of on-time performance as well as how to improve it. Allow us to elaborate!

On-time performance: what is it and why is it important?

On-time performance is a measure to assess the success of a certain service in remaining on schedule. Airlines measure it by looking at the percentage of aircraft departing or arriving on time throughout their network. An airport, which is merely one stop in the daily flight schedule, should consider its contribution to this network, measuring how many aircraft arrive on time but depart too late – and vice versa. Good on-time performance means that delayed flights are often able to recover part of their delay at your airport, while poor on-time performance means that airlines need to build extra margins into their flight schedule to anticipate delays on the ground.

The benefits a well-performing airport enjoys are twofold. First, it appeals more to passengers and suffers less reputational damage. Moreover, it attracts more airlines that seek to optimize costs - a common endeavor, as the average cost of a one-minute delay is one hundred euros which this Eurocontrol report shows.

Improving on-time performance: where to start?

Considering the above, it is crucial for airports to improve their on-time performance. But how to go about it?

First, an airport should familiarize itself with the root causes of delay, such as bad weather, late baggage, waiting for crew members or passengers who are running late, or delayed take-offs because the airspace is too crowded. Subsequently, the airport needs to understand which of these causes it can influence directly. If, for example, the airport is responsible for gate planning, optimized aircraft stand planning can prevent a lot of congestion on the ground.

While some factors can be managed by the airport, others are out of its control. This is partly due to the fact that airports depend on many other players in the market, such as airlines (which control flight, crew, and aircraft schedules), air traffic control (which oversees take-off and landing schedules), ground handling parties (which determine their own personnel planning), and even other airports (which influence the arrival time of flights). As a result, an airport may deem it impossible to improve on-time performance and throw in the towel.

Understandable, but not advisable. Because despite all external factors, airports often find themselves in a unique position: they maintain direct operational relations with nearly every party involved. This allows them to assume a coordinating role, accommodating operational communications and collaboration between all parties involved. The results are beneficial: proper communications between air traffic control, airlines, and ground handlers create major operational efficiencies. If, for instance, it is clear to air traffic control when aircraft will be ready for departure, they can accurately anticipate and optimize the take-off and landing schedule. In Europe, concepts for implementing this function are well defined (e.g. A-CDM, APOC, and AOP).

No mean feat, yet worth the trouble!

In summary, successfully optimizing airport processes and implementing concepts such as A-CDM and APOC  are no mean feat. But airports willing to go the distance will likely be much better off, as they'll create the foundation for securing their future market position.

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