Process innovation in the airline industry – the importance of reducing turnaround time

Process innovation in the airline industry – the importance of reducing turnaround time

In order to cut costs and increase performance airlines work constantly on reducing turnaround time, the time from when an aircraft parks at the gate till it can pull out again with a new load of passengers. These many smaller and larger adaptations can be seen as  important process innovations, and they are crucial for competitiveness.

There are a number of key tasks to be carried out: unloading and loading of passengers and luggage, safety and security checks, catering, cleaning and a variety of administrative tasks, all undertaken by different staff groups. This is a logical challenge, and management is handled by “lean” operational systems, and the use of advanced electronic equipment and systems. Southwest Airlines claims to have found the key to the most rapid turnover, merely 25 minutes.

Other airlines have also shown an attention to the tiny details that potentially contribute to prolonging the turnover. While other airlines have seat pockets for in-flight magazines and safety instructions, Ryan Air has removed the pockets. Cleaners do no longer need to dig into the pockets to remove trash. The safety instructions are found on the back of the seat in front, and magazines are handed out and recollected during the flight by flight attendants who are less time restricted than cleaners.

Ryan Air’s “pay per luggage item” is also contributing to the important reduction of turnaround time, In addition, less luggage means less need for fuel, another critical cost item in the airline industry. The same logic accounts for the catering services.

Critics of the still lower turnaround time claim that the airlines will become more vulnerable to accumulated delays and airports’ slot time policy. More seriously even, some critics find that safety might be compromised.

Southwest Airlines

Singapore Airlines


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