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Economics of flying

Two factors are mainly used to define a product: the price & the quality. Normally, a low price does not come with a high quality. But the lower the price, the higher the demand. In aviation, this is not different! While customers have a clear understanding of the price of a high-quality car or a top-fashion handbag, only few have an idea about the costs of a flight-hour of a reasonable quality.

To most passengers the economics of flying begin & end with the ticket price: The lower the rate, the better for your wallet. Passengers have accepted some sacrifices in the name of lower cost – less luggage on board, random seating, less legroom, no complimentary snacks or drinks etc. Delays and unreliable operations, such as last-minute cancelations, are the latest additions to the list of inconveniences. 

In the past months the numbers of flight cancelations are going through the roof. Ryanair had messed up their crew rostering last year, cancelling approximately 20.000 flights. Over 700.000 passengers were affected by this. Eurowings just lately had to apologise to their customers for their repeatedly unpunctual operations. Such airlines are fast to find the someone to blame. The usual suspect involve: Air Traffic Controllers working to their limits, ‘incapable’ airports and politicians unwilling to wave off fundamental rights, such as the right to strike.

Passengers have accepted some sacrifices in the name of lower cost

The truth is somehow a different story. This industry was simply not brave enough to invest money in training and employing young & talented people over the past years. And I’m not talking only about pilots. Airline management was too faint-hearted to plan for necessary reserves in their operation. Cheap tools, like wet-leased aircraft with poorly paid crews were supposed to fill the gaps temporarily. 

Now we see the consequences of this poor planning: the industry needs professional engineers, mechanics, cabin crew & pilots. But all of those won’t be available over night – no, they have to be convinced first that the airline industry is actually worth a try and a good alternative to other promising careers. It is way too convenient to blame delays on ATC, strikes, the weather and anything else, without looking in your own garden. 

Airlines are fast to find the someone to blame

Only if we understand that people and their professionalism are actually the most important ingredient for a reliable and safe airline operation, we can avoid falling in this trap of wanting to fly (almost) for free. Only if the right people are willing to bring their ideas to aviation, we will have passengers benefit from a safe & decent product in the future.

So, airline management: stop complaining about the things you can’t change and work on those that you can – like investing in your staff! For a safe & reliable aviation industry.

by Capt. Dirk Polloczek, ECA President