Key Performance Indicators (KPI) are a common instrument to track a company’s performance and goals. And airlines, of course, use a huge variety of KPIs too. With this blog post, we want to put a spotlight on operations KPIs and answer the question: “What are the most important operations KPIs for airlines?”

Airline Operations KPIs — More than the KPIs every passenger knows

When discussing the topic of airline operations KPIs, almost everybody has the most prominent KPI in mind: Punctuality. Undoubtedly, punctuality is well-known among passengers. Moreover, dozens of awards and analyses focus on the world’s most punctual airlines.

However, operating an airline requires complex processes. Therefore, many airlines also utilize sophisticated KPI frameworks. Accordingly, the number of operations KPIs exceeds twenty or thirty quickly.

To give you an example: When we set up our KPI product at an airline, we usually have a set of +50 operations KPIs to launch an initial discussion. On top of that, our product catalog contains even more than 100 airline operations KPIs. Indeed, not all of them have the same priority, and many KPIs address specific business models or sub-processes.

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    Most important airline operations KPIs — Here’s what we analyzed.

    Defining the most important operation KPIs isn’t that easy. That’s why we decided to take a look at our clients and airlines we’ve worked with. That means we analyzed more than 20 airlines. The analyzed airlines included:

    • Flag/network carriers (e.g., Lufthansa, Saudi Arabian Airlines, or Swiss Airlines)
    • Medium-sized airlines (e.g. Icelandair)
    • Charter Airlines (e.g., Condor)
    • Regional Airlines (e.g., Air Dolomiti)
    • Low-cost airlines (e.g. Volotea)
    • Cargo Airlines (e.g. Lufthansa Cargo)

    The list of airlines we analyzed included carriers such as Lufthansa, Swiss International Airlines, Icelandair, Saudi Arabian Airlines, Volotea, Condor, Air Dolomiti, Lufthansa Cargo, Austrian Airlines, Aeroflot, and many more.

    6th — Misconnex Quota

    Let’s give you a quick definition first: Misconnex Quota calculates the percentage of connecting passengers who miss their onward flight related to the complete number of connecting passengers. Surprisingly, 45% of all airlines analyzed use this KPI.

    For us, it was quite surprising to see this KPI among the most important airline operation KPIs. Why that? Because the KPI is only relevant for some of the analyzed airlines. Cargo airlines but also (most often) low-cost and charter airlines don’t focus on connecting passengers. Additionally, the KPI reflects a rather complex indicator. It requires a thorough calculation model and extensive data.

    However, for network airlines, the KPI reflects a key differentiator and important quality feature.

    Airline KPI — Misconnex

    5th — Arrival Punctuality

    Arrival Punctuality is the percentage of flights that arrive on-time at the planned destination airport concerning all operated flights. Typically, the definition of on-time contains a 15 minutes time window. Accordingly, the KPI considers all flights that arrive as scheduled or —at maximum— 15 minutes later as on-time. Worth to mention, that the 15-minutes time window applies in both directions: ahead and behind schedule.

    Our analysis showed that 67% of all airlines use this key performance indicator. Although we assumed a higher ranking for this KPI, it turned out that network carriers don’t focus on this indicator. Of course, that doesn’t mean these airlines are not focused on punctual operations. However, the strategic and operational goals in terms of on-time performance are often linked to different airline operations KPIs.

    Airline Operations KPI, Arrival Punctuality

    4th — Seat Load Factor

    Let’s start with the definition again: We calculate the Seat Load Factor as the percentage of checked-in passengers in relation to an aircraft’s available seats. The results show that 71% of all airlines use this key performance indicator.

    Contrary to all other key performance indicators of this list, the seat load factor is the only KPI related to profitability performance. All other KPIs of this list focuses on customer satisfaction. 

    3rd — Delay Reasons

    Certainly, delay reasons are somehow related to punctuality KPIs. Nevertheless, the KPI provides a more specific analysis of operational issues. Our analysis showed that 82% of airlines monitor and track a delay reasons KPI.

    Worth to mention, that usage of delay information differs between airlines. Some airlines show the total amount of delay minutes simply as a bold number. A larger portion of airlines tends to monitor delay minutes clustered according to underlying delay reasons, for example, technical, handling, rotational, or weather. A few airlines only show delay minutes of specific reasons they consider as most important or influential for their operations.

    Interesting alternative: Some of the airlines move away from showing the straight delay minutes and put them in relation to the number of flights or passengers. As results, those airlines monitor the average delay minutes per flight or average delay minutes a passenger experiences.

    Airline KPIs - Delay Reasons

    2nd — Regularity

    Quickly explained: The regularity KPI reflects the percentage of operated flights concerning planned flights. Or, in other words: The KPI tells you how many flights an airline cancels. 90% of all airlines use this fundamental performance indicator.

    Although this is one of the most basic airline operations KPIs, it is undoubtedly one of the most important. So it might be surprising why not every airline monitors this KPI closely. The reason lies in the specific charter operations model. Since charter airlines typically don’t cancel flights (but delay them sometimes for more than a day), these airlines don’t focus on the KPI on a day-to-day basis.

    Airline Operations - Regularity KPI

    1st — Departure Punctuality

    And here we go with the winner: Based on our analysis, Departure Punctuality reflects the most important KPI for airlines. 100% of airlines analyzed use this performance indicator. 

    Departure Punctuality calculates the percentage of flights that depart on-time at the planned origin airport concerning all operated flights. Like arrival punctuality, a flight counts as on-time if the departure delay is not greater than 15 minutes.

    Actually, it wasn’t a big surprise to see this KPI ranked first since departure punctuality is one of the most significant quality KPIs for airlines — especially when it comes to competitive advantages.

    Departure Punctuality

    Airline Performance Analysis — where are the environmental indicators?

    Interesting fact: Although environmental KPIs (for example, fuel consumption, CO2) do not rank along with the 6 most important airline operations KPIs, we observed a considerable increase in their usage. It will be interesting to see how this develops in the future.

    Want to know more about airline operations KPIs? Start here!

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    Benjamin is an information-enthusiast, a content-maniac, and CEO of Information Design (in this order). His daily business revolves around pioneering solutions with the aim to change the way companies use information. His visions are based on expertise gained in more than 15 years in the industry, and working with renowned companies all over the globe.