«

»

Aircraft Operating Series – Aircraft Operating Expenses

A 737 of Travel Service Airlines taking off from Budapest in 2012. –Photo: Sándor Dömötör – OPShots Contributor//

Would you believe that over 102,000 commercial passenger flights circle over our heads every day? These planes alone cost somewhere between $70 million and $404 million dollars, and are operated by just a handful of airlines. Following its merger with US Airways, American Airlines and its regional affiliates operate the world’s largest fleet of aircraft, with 1,789 planes, followed by Delta Air Lines with 1,330, United Airlines with 1,229, Southwest Airlines with 720, and FedEx Express with 688. Each aircraft type has its own average operating expense, which varies based on flight conditions. To cover these costs, airlines must carry a certain number of passengers on each flight (Read more: Break Even Load Factor).

The cost of operating a commercial aircraft can be broken down into two main categories: airborne cost and ground cost. The airborne costs are the actual costs of flying the aircraft; the ground costs are the cost of the airframe, engine maintenance, as well as airport and hangar expenses. Both are typically measured hourly and are broken down per mile. The cost per seat mile is the cost of flying one passenger one mile and is used to measure operating costs. The average cost per seat mile is around 7 to 8 cents for low cost carriers and 11 to 12 cents for network carriers.

Labor and fuel are the largest expenses, accounting for about 12% of the total cost. On average, a pilot’s salary begins at $36,000 and caps around $196,000. The average fuel consumption per 100 kilometers is 3.035 liters (78.5 mpg) for turbo props, 3.126 liters (76.3 mpg) for regional jets, 2.405 liters (100.5 mpg) for short haul, 2.74 liters (86.8 mpg) for medium haul, and 2.959 (80.84 mpg) liters for long haul.

The 50 seat Bombardier Dash 8-300 costs around $1,564 per hour, less per seat than the 42 seat ATR 42, which costs around $1,552 per hour. The 72 seat ATR 72 costs around $2,247 per hour. All three aircraft cost less to operate per hour than the 50 seat Embraer ERJ 145, which costs around $3,503 per hour. The ERJ-145 may offer economic advantages for an airline with a faster cruise speed up to 180 miles per hour more and a range 500 miles longer than other aircraft of this category.

The CS300 costs around $3,100 per hour, the 737-700 costs around $2,900 per hour, the A320 costs around $3,200 per hour, while the Boeing 757 costs around $8,383.15 per hour.
With limited data on the dual engine widebodies, it appears that the Boeing 767 costs around $9,130 per hour to operate, the 777 costs around $7,380 per hour, and the Airbus A330 costs around $7,900 per hour.

More engines lead to higher prices. The average airborne operating cost of a Boeing 747-400 is between $24,000 and $27,000 per hour, around $39.08 to $43.97 per mile, using approximately $15,374 in fuel per hour. In perspective, according to a new Congressional Research Service report, Air Force One, a 747-200B (VC-25A) costs $179,750 per hour to operate. The Airbus A340-200 costs $14,000 per hour, while the larger A340-400 costs $21,000 per hour. The Airbus A380, the largest passenger jet, costs between $26,000 and $29,000 per hour, using roughly $17,467 of fuel, approximately $40.19 to $44.82 per mile. The engines on these aircraft account for 5% of the operating expenses. According to Airbus, a 475-seat A340 has an overall monthly cost advantage over the in comparison to the 747-400 of $557,000. However, even with the higher cost per seat mile, the 747-8’s cost per trip is just 12% lower than the A380’s, while the cost per seat is 9% higher.

A more detailed look at Qantas Airways flight offers a better understanding of typical costs. On a 14-hour A380-800 flight from Sydney to Los Angeles, the airline expenditures amount to $305,735; $11,414 in food and drink, $12,625 in staff pay and $37,157 in airport taxes and navigation services, and around $244,539 in fuel to fly the 484 seat plane. On a Boeing 777-300ER flight from Sydney to Los Angeles, the airline spends a total of $190,422. $9,652 in food and drink, $9,653 in staff pay, $31,117 in airport taxes and navigation services, and over $140,000 in fuel to fly the 361 seat plane on the 14-hour journey.

An average flight on a Delta Air Lines 737-800 costs $2,744 per hour. The plane burns 850 gallons per hour. Fuel costs $1,275 based on Jet-A fuel costing Delta $1.50 a gallon. Two pilots and five flight attendants costs around $500 an hour. Direct maintenance on the airframe is around $220, engines are around $130, and maintenance burden is around $150, for a total of $500. In addition to this cost is depreciation of $373 and aircraft rental of $96. An average flight on an American Airlines 737-800 costs $2,180 per hour. The plane burns 850 gallons per hour. Fuel costs $1,028 based on Jet-A fuel costing American $1.21 a gallon. A cockpit crew of two along with five flight attendants costs around $465 an hour. Direct maintenance on the airframe is around $200, engines are around $110, and maintenance burden is around $135, for a total of $315. Also added to this cost is depreciation of $259 and aircraft rental of $113.

An average flight on a Delta Air Lines MD-88 costs $2,978 per hour. The plane burns 1,050 gallons per hour. Fuel costs $1,575 based on Jet-A fuel costing Delta $1.50 a gallon. Two pilots and three flight attendants costs around $460 an hour. Direct maintenance on the airframe is around $200, engines are around $140, and maintenance burden is around $140, for a total of $480. Also added to this cost is depreciation of $247 and aircraft rental of $216. An average flight on an American Airlines MD-88 costs $2,541.5 per hour. The plane burns 1,050 gallons per hour. Fuel costs $1270.5 based on Jet-A fuel costing American $1.21 a gallon. Two pilots and three flight attendants costs around $403 an hour. Direct maintenance on the airframe is around $185, engines are around $165,and maintenance burden is around $240, for a total of $590. Also added to this cost is depreciation of $86 and aircraft rental of $192.

There are several rules, regulations, and procedures that account for an increase in flight expenditures. Normally, pilots are limited to eight hours of continuous flying and must have a mandatory rest period of 10 hours, or 14 hours for multi-time zone flights. This means that three to five alternate pilots per airplane are required for long international flights. In addition to more pilots, long international flights often also require additional flight attendants. The number of flight attendants is directly correlated to the number of passengers aboard; therefore, a long international flight with a large number of passengers would require a large crew. Seniority also factors in; pilots flying the larger aircraft demand higher pay, as they typically have more hours, and have been with the airline longer.

Other airport rules such as taxi procedures, takeoff, approach, and landing procedures all factor into the cost of the flight. Various landing patterns can extend the length of the flight, sometimes more than thirty miles. This is often dictated by the intensity of the winds, and which runway is in use. At London Heathrow for example, there are four holding stacks that act as waiting rooms for flights, adding time and fuel burn for the flight. Once flights are cleared to begin landing procedures for Heathrow, they follow a 29-mile approach path.

Operating an airline is very expensive. Airlines with multi-class seating have the option of charging more for first class, business class, or premium class, as opposed to the economy class. They also have the ability to charge ancillary fees, such as baggage fees or in-flight amenities to help increase revenue. The average airline’s operating expense equates to 90% of its total revenue, so each passenger makes a difference in this business.

The data in this article has been gathered and recalculated according to my research from various websites and articles. These numbers are not official and do not take fuel hedging into account.

Next in the series: Airport Operations and expenses

(Contact the author for a list of sources)

About the author

Cole Goldberg

Welcome to OPShots.net! Enjoy the photos!

1 comment

  1. Farai

    Can you do a report on Airliner values. Like value of New 5yr 10 yr A380s 777 787s A350s

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>