Point of View

Proactively managing disruptions is mandatory as complexity and costs soar for US Airlines


Every minute a plane is delayed costs the operator between $75 - $100 [1]. The Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) recorded that US airlines accumulated more than hundred million minutes of delay every year [2].

Those 100 million lost minutes cost airlines almost 10 billion dollars annually. And when you factor in the ripple effect of disruption to passengers and downstream businesses, the cost rises sharply. The total cost of delayed flights to the US economy was up to $34 billion [3].

Commercial aviation generates 5% of US GDP [4].Every day, US airlines carry almost three million passengers on domestic and international flights [4]. The aviation sector is an engine of US growth. The more efficient it can be, the more all Americans benefit.

So how can the sector cut the time and money lost to disruption? Stop treating disruption as a black box. Despite rising costs, growing volumes of passenger complaints [today, complaint levels are 300% above 2019], supply-chain shortfalls, labor shortages, and concerns about climate change, BTS reported in February 2024 that 36% of delay minutes were controllable by the air carrier. And around 38% were due to the previous aircraft arriving late. [2]

Finding a way to identify those elements of disruption that can be controlled or mitigated — from planning right up to the day of operations — then developing ways to act on this information is in the sector's best interest. 

What are the 'controllable' elements of disruptions in US aviation?

As aviation operations technology has improved, so has our ability to spot patterns in the data around the causes, nature, and consequences of disruption.

In the past, even relatively common phenomena, such as delays and cancellations, were difficult to predict with accuracy. And when they did occur, airlines and other stakeholders often didn't have the necessary data and systems agility to mitigate at speed.

This is no longer the case. With a data-driven operations platform and a predictive, holistic approach, aviation stakeholders can identify aspects of disruption they can manipulate, in real-time, to improve outcomes for passengers, crew and the bottom line.

Examples of addressing the controllable elements of disruption include:

  • reducing delays and improving flight turnaround with complete visibility of available crews, even those who, because of previous delays, are on unscheduled stopovers.
  • improve aircraft availability and schedule stability with same day optimization of aircraft selection and allocation.
  • improve the resiliency and scalability of passenger connections, for the optimum balance of cost efficiency and customer experience.
  • anticipating and simulating the impacts of a solution today on the schedules and crew predictively, thus curtailing the cascading impact

The same principles — rapidly identifying the controllable aspects of disruption and developing intelligent remediation strategies in near real time — can be applied to a whole range of challenges. These include weather-related disruptions; geopolitical events; technical and maintenance issues; unforeseen emergencies; and unplanned crew absence.

The key to doing this successfully is to combine data-analysis sophisticated enough to spot problems before they develop with a disruption-management platform. This should be intelligent enough and have access to the data required to avoid unintended domino effects.

Legacy aviation operations platforms often have neither the intelligence nor the data visibility to anticipate the impact of any given action. They might, for instance, recommend the re-assignment of a crew to cover a vacancy without being able to anticipate that this would cause increased disruption further down the line.

With state-of-the-art disruption management, this kind of problem is no longer unavoidable, and isn't forgivable. Even when you're working on day-of-operations optimization, your platform should be able to predict the forward impact of any changes on future months and other departments, helping you make the right decisions for the moment and the long term.

Proactive disruption management is the only answer to rising complexity

Modern disruption management confers a massive competitive advantage on any aviation company that adopts it. Even if the sector was not changing, there would be every reason to adopt the new technology. But the sector is changing, rapidly.

The recent picture is one of persistent challenges. Since 2019, the proportion of on-time arrivals has dropped from 79% to just 73% while the proportion of flights delayed has increased from 18% to 23% [5].

And the volume of flights is rising. In 2022, the latest number for which we have figures, the number of air passengers in the US increased by 55% and the number of flights at the nation's core airports increased by 23% [6]. This trend is set to continue. Between now and 2032, IATA expects US passenger volumes to increase by 3% a year to 1.2 billion [7].

All this is happening when air-traffic controller numbers are falling, the US is now 3,000 short [8]. This will continue to the 2030s. The only way to square rising passenger numbers, with growing complexity and resource constrictions, is with intelligent technology.

Using data-driven, intelligent disruption management improves the employee experience, giving crew members greater visibility over the information they need to serve customers and greater control over their own working conditions. It guarantees an improved passenger experience. By enabling improved efficiency, it makes a direct impact on the bottom line.

To find out more about intelligent disruption management and how it can help you achieve your goals for a range of key business metrics, download your FREE copy of the new IBS e-book. 'Proactive Disruption Management'.

The benefits of data-driven, intelligent and proactive disruption management

Using legacy systems, operations controllers are hamstrung by the lack of unified intelligence across operations and intelligent decision support leading to an inability to make expedited, informed decisions.

Using intelligent disruption management overcomes these limitations to deliver benefits including:

  • rapid recovery, within hours or even minutes of disruption hitting.
  • comprehensive situational awareness with real-time, synchronized data.
  • holistic recovery that balances immediate needs with long-term impacts.
  • the ability to factor in and mitigate the ripple effect across time, network and departments.
  • the ability to make rapid, meaningful customer-centric decisions that deliver superior passenger experience.
  • the ability to optimize aircraft, fuel, hub, maintenance and crew utilization across time and location.
  • an improved crew experience, with better work-life equilibrium and greater involvement in decision making.

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