Scheduled vs. Actual Flight Operation: Top 10 Largest and Smallest Airlines

Here's our latest analysis: We've analyzed the largest and smallest airlines according to the number of scheduled and actual flight figures — and particularly checked how airlines scheduled vs. actual flight operation is linked to COVID-19 cases increase, vaccination rollout, or additional factors.

Our previous post discussed the cancellation rate per region to evaluate if the vaccination rollout could help decrease airline cancellations. In this case, we would like to track the ten airlines with a higher number of scheduled flights and the ten airlines with the lowest number of flights planned from February to May 2021 vs. their actual operation, according to our OAG source.

With the number of scheduled flights, we will determine remarkable changes during the four months analyzed. We will also identify in which countries these airlines are operating. Finally, we will calculate the respective scheduled vs. actual flight operation based on their schedule size ranking. 

We can see a slight difference between the scheduled vs. actual flights during February. For All Nippon Airways, the largest airline in Japan, the cancellation rate in February was about 60%. The reason for this can be the consequence of the increased travel restrictions to the country. Only residents of the country are allowed to travel and strict additional conditions such as test and quarantine upon arrival. This rule started on January 21st, 2021, impacting the scheduled operation directly for February, giving no time to adjust the upcoming month’s schedule. On the other hand, the cancellation rate for the other airlines remains between 7%-18% of the scheduled operation. 

In the ten airlines with fewer scheduled flights, we can see the behavior is much different. For example, two airlines canceled their entire operation, and one of the airlines canceled around 50% of its schedule.

Airlines are constantly adjusting their scheduled operation

For the ten airlines with the most prominent schedules, the scenario looks much more stable during March. All airlines except for one had a cancellation rate below 5%. The only airline with a cancellation of almost 100% was China Express, which operated only 31 flights from the more than 30,000 scheduled for the month. Additionally, we can see that on top of the list are still four US airlines and one Chinese, which also led the list in February. We can also see that two of the airlines from February are no longer scheduling the same number of flights in March and are no longer part of the top 10. 

For the minor airlines, we can see that the situation in March is very similar to February. One of the airlines, Buraq Air from Libya, remained with a 100% cancellation rate. Another of the minor airlines, Royal Air Charters, has a 50% cancellation rate from Zambia. The rest of the airlines fulfilled their operation according to schedule, except for two cancellations from Cambodia Angkor Air. 

We can see how the cancellation rate reduces significantly for the leading airlines for April. Once again, four US airlines lead the list, followed by a Chinese airline, maintaining the same rank order during three consecutive months. We can see that All Nippon Airways is back on the top 10, however, with approximately 7,000 fewer scheduled flights as in February. 

For the minor carriers, only one of the airlines had the two scheduled flights for the month canceled, while the others had a 100% schedule regularity. 

Delta Variant Affecting one of the Major Player’s Scheduled and Actual Operation

Now, for one of the strong players, IndiGo, the rise in COVID-19 cases prove once again the impact on airline operation during May. While the first five airlines maintained their positions along the entire studied period, IndiGo, India’s Low-Cost carrier, who occupied the 6th to 7th place of the top 10 list, had to reduce their scheduled by almost 45% due to the increase of COVID-19 cases, linked to the delta variant. 

We also identified that only US and Chinese airlines led the top 10 airlines with more scheduled flights during May. One thing that caught my attention was that no European or Middle Eastern airline belonged to the top 10 list during the entire evaluated period. 

We can see that all scheduled flights are also operated for the smaller airlines, implying that there’s a schedule regularity of 100%, and none have cancellations during May. 

It seems that airlines are coping better with the schedule planning during the pandemic and the different waves. But, of course, when the situation changes critically in a short time, the airlines don’t have the reaction time to adjust the operation on such short notice while mitigating the impact on their travelers. 


KPIs to Support the Operation Awareness

On the other hand, other additional factors can impact airline scheduled vs. actual flight operation. Consequently, to better understand the behavior of the operations, real-time data can also help us track the airline operation. The tracking is performed on a general monthly basis, per day, or even per hour. In addition, unique and uncommon specific situations may occur over a short period. We can quickly identify these situations when tracking the operation in real-time. Some of the KPIs used to analyze schedule operations are:

  • Departures per hour/day/week/month vs. Scheduled departures: We can see if the departures scheduled have all operated during the day. In case there were cancellations, how did it impact the daily operation. Validate if the irregularities happen within the entire day or specific hours. The same will occur when analyzing broader periods to determine if there was a particular day where irregularities took place or if it’s a more permanent and recurring irregularity through the entire evaluated period. 
  • Arrivals per hour/day/week/month vs. Scheduled arrivals
  • Cancellations per hour/day/week/month vs. Scheduled departures
  • Average Departure Delay: This KPI is valuable for understanding if an airline is constantly delayed or is generally on time. and determining the duration of the delays. In some cases, this KPI can indicate a day when the average delay time increased due to specific situations. 

In conclusion, even though the industry is highly affected by COVID-19, it’s interesting to see how airlines can cope better with network planning and slightly increase their capacity as time passes. Additionally, tracking the data in real-time allows having a better overview of the evaluated period while identifying isolated or specific cases that require attention outside the general pandemic crisis.


Inside Japan. Latest Japan Travel Updates. 28th June 2021.

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About the author

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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