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The Unknown Approach to Reducing Airline Turnaround Times!

Reducing the turnaround time is one of the ultimate goals for every airline — especially in such testing times with growing complexity. With this blog post, we introduce an approach to reduce turnaround time sustainably. Moreover, this approach is feasible for every airline!

Airline Turnaround Processes — A Quick Introduction

More than any other airline operations process, turnaround processes are the key to an airline’s efficiency. If you ask an airliner to name an airline saying, many will answer the following: An aircraft only earns money when flying!

Although it sounds like a hackneyed saying, it is 100% correct. An aircraft on the ground, first and foremost, reflects costs the airline money. Therefore, airlines have been trying to reduce turnaround times for ages. And the calculation is simple: Shorter turnarounds result in:

  • Reduced costs due to reduced operating hours of an aircraft
  • More available flying time that the airline can use to earn money

Low-Cost Airlines — The Kings of Turnaround!

Low-cost airlines are probably the type of carriers that really squeezed that concept. They cut or reduced every process that drives complexity and the duration of turnaround times: Catering, boarding, loading, etc. 

Just think about the free seating. It helps low-cost carriers to achieve faster turnaround times because people have to search for their seats. Or another example: High baggage fees. Of course, it is about creating an additional revenue stream. Nevertheless, it is also about reducing the amount of baggage that needs to be loaded. Subsequently, fewer baggage results in shorter loading and overall turnaround times.

Introducing a (Mostly) Unknown Approach to Reducing Airline Turnaround Times

As mentioned above, low-cost airlines have led the way to shorter turnaround times over the last decades. Moreover, many network carriers tried to adapt the concepts wherever possible. Therefore, you may ask how it is possible to reduce turnaround times even further. And more importantly, you ask what this unknown approach is about.

Well, I’m going to tell you in a minute. However, before we do that, I have to explain some turnaround essentials. No worries, it won’t get too complicated, but it is essential to understand the mostly unknown approach to reducing turnaround times.

Aircraft Turnaround Processes

An aircraft’s turnaround process consists of many sub-processes. That includes passenger de-boarding, cargo offload, cleaning, catering, baggage loading, fueling, passenger boarding, and many others. Obviously, most of the sub-processes have to follow a precise sequence. Easy example: You can’t board passengers before de-boarding is completed. 

However, and in order to carry out an efficient process, airlines try to parallelize as many processes as possible. Usually, this —especially— accounts for fueling, catering, and cleaning. However, this also means that ground staff needs to complete each of the three processes before the following process (in this case, boarding and loading) can start.

The Bottleneck of Many Turnarounds

Although the parallel execution of fueling, catering, and cleaning is an essential step towards a faster turnaround, it also represents a bottleneck. More precisely: Whatever process takes longest also defines the length of this part of the turnaround. In other words: An airline can have the fastest cleaning and catering process in the world — as long as fueling is slow, the airline won’t accelerate the overall turnaround. 

And here’s exactly where the problem lies! The Institue of Logistics and Aviation conducted an in-depth analysis of the turnaround process and presented the results at the International Conference on Research in Air Transportation. 

Here’s what they found: In most cases (56%), the fueling process represents the bottleneck of the mentioned parallel processes. Accordingly, the fueling process limits the overall turnaround time of more than every second flight.

What Does That Mean for Your Airline Turnaround?

The results of the Institue of Logistics and Aviation inevitably leads to two things:

  1. An airline must be aware that the fueling process is the bottleneck of every second turnaround they execute.
  2. Accordingly, reducing the fueling process’s duration directly leads to a shorter overall turnaround for more than 50% of their flights.

The Unknown Approach to Reduce Turnaround Times — or how to Accelerate Fueling

Congrats, you made your way through all the details about an airline’s turnaround. Since you understood that fueling —in many cases— represents the limiting factor of an aircraft’s turnaround, you may ask yourself how to shorten that process.

Good news first: There is a straightforward way to do this. Moreover, I’m pretty sure that your airline hasn’t implemented that approach yet. That’s why we call it “the unknown approach.” Actually, it is not a secret approach but a relatively new way of executing the fueling process. The approach represents a digital method that some major airlines already use.

Electronic Fueling — The Key to a Shorter Fueling Process

So let’s get down to business. The unknown approach is best-known as Electronic Fueling. Electronic Fueling aims to digitize the entire fueling process. The core idea of Electronic Fueling is to connect airlines and fuel provider systems and thereby to enable a digital exchange of fuel process-related information. Accordingly, fuel orders, acknowledgments, process milestones, and fuel slips/receipts are exchanged digitally. In other words: Electronic Fueling stands for the elimination of manual and verbal process steps.

25% Faster Fueling Processes Leading to Overall Turnaround Reduction of 3 Minutes!

Analyses of a major airline group show a reduction of the fueling process’s duration by as much as 25% — once the switch to the Electronic Fueling approach is completed. If we assume an average process duration of 12 minutes for fueling, this leads to a process reduction of 3 minutes. And since we know that fueling limits every second turnaround, it consequently leads to a 3-minute decrease in the overall turnaround time.

Of course, the fueling process duration heavily depends on aircraft type and route. Therefore, the overall reduction of the turnaround time can vary.


Fueling represents the bottleneck for 56% of all aircraft turnarounds. Therefore, accelerating the fueling process directly leads to a shorter overall turnaround time. Electronic Fueling is an approach that helped major airlines to cut their fueling process by as much as 25%. Accordingly, Electronic Fueling represents an approach that allows airlines to achieve faster turnarounds.

Want to Know More About Electronic Fueling?

Here’s where to start:

  • aFuel: The world’s biggest digital fuel network
  • Digital Fueling Blog: An extensive knowledge base with everything you need to know about Electronic Fueling!
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Benjamin Walther

CEO, Frankfurt

Benjamin is Information Design's CEO and a proven content-maniac. Besides running a successful business and developing pioneering ideas, he's dedicated to writing blog posts and creating content.

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