With the continuous increase in air travel worldwide, more and more low-cost and ultra-low-cost carriers (ULCC) are entering the business. Such airlines are known for their extremely low fares and operations between secondary city pairs. These are mostly no-frill airlines where the ticket price only covers the airfare. Travelers are responsible for paying extra for carry-on baggage, their choice of seats, and other inflight services.
Most low-cost carriers ensure fleet commonality to minimize operating costs and offer low fares to the customers. Large ULLCs only operate a single aircraft type (with different variants) across their fleet. For example, Ryanair and Southwest Airlines only use different Boeing 737 narrowbody jet variants.
On the other hand, easyJet, another low-cost giant, uses Airbus A320 family airliners across its fleet. The carriers benefit from training requirements, maintenance costs, and availability of spares. This article highlights five key advantages of operating a single-type fleet.
1 Efficient and cost-effective training
It is the airline’s responsibility to ensure that all aviation personnel are trained for their job. Whether it is pilots, cabin crew, or maintenance technicians, they all must be trained and certified to carry out their work. With the single type of aircraft operating across the airline, personnel training becomes significantly simpler and cost-effective for the airline.
For example, the airline will have to provide pilot training for one aircraft type. Whether it is in-house simulator training or supplied by a third party, fleet commonality makes things simpler for the airline. Similarly, maintenance technicians must be trained and certified for only one type of aircraft, such as the Boeing 737 in the case of Southwest.
Photo: Peter Krocka | Shutterstock
Fleet commonality allows airlines to easily swap pilots and technicians from the roster since they are already trained for the type. While cabin crew training comprises several essential components that are common for all aircraft, numerous elements are specific to each different type. The cabin crew must receive type training for each aircraft cabin before providing cabin services.
Type training for cabin crew generally takes 6 to 8 weeks, followed by a combination of computer-based and hands-on evaluation. Single-fleet carriers not only save a lot of time and cost on cabin crew training, but the level of familiarity of the cabin significantly improves the efficiency in the industry where punctuality is crucial.
2 Reduced cost of maintenance
Maintenance costs are significantly lower when the airline operates a single fleet type. Aircraft maintenance can generally be categorized into two kinds: quick maintenance at a ramp or hangar and a more comprehensive Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul (MRO) shop visit. Quick maintenance can occur between flights, during an overnight stay on the ramp, or periodically based on flight operations.
While an aircraft must be taken off service for an MRO shop visit, the airline can have its own maintenance technicians resolve most quick maintenance issues. As such, the airline will only invest in the maintenance infrastructure that caters to their aircraft type of choice. For example, easyJet will only purchase tooling, supplies, and consumables for the Airbus A320 family. Moreover, the company will invest in inspection and maintenance equipment appropriate for their aircraft type.
With aircraft commonality, mechanics and technicians become well-versed in handling various specific technical issues, thereby minimizing the maintenance turnaround time. Rather than having a complete infrastructure for multiple types, single-fleet carriers get away with much more straightforward and cost-effective maintenance operations.
3 Greater negotiation power
Low-cost carriers that purchase only one aircraft type tend to have a more substantial negotiation power than mixed-fleet carriers. There are two reasons for that. First is that they are usually placing orders for a large number of aircraft from a single manufacturer. That, in and of itself, calls for steep discounts on the order. Secondly, single-fleet carriers show their commitment to the type of aircraft they operate, which keeps the forecasted production numbers healthy for the manufacturer.
Photo: BNA Vision
Most airlines make financially viable commitments with the manufacturer early on to have more incredible room for future growth. The airlines also receive much greater warranty and other airframe maintenance benefits when operating a single aircraft type.
4 Minimized cost of spares
The aviation industry has struggled with supply chain issues since the start of the Russia-Ukraine conflict. As such, airlines have been facing increased turnaround times for the maintenance of aircraft and engines. Large carriers aim to keep a stock of the most critical spare parts to minimize their aircraft’s downtime. However, single-fleet airlines can significantly reduce the cost of spares.
Photo: Flair Airlines
Such a carrier will likely purchase a large stock of spares for its aircraft. Buying spare parts for only one aircraft type allows the airline to place large orders well in advance. Airlines do not have to arrange extensive storage areas to stock up spares for multiple aircraft. This reduces overhead costs associated with storage and handling. Moreover, the airline also saves money on inventory.
5 Increased operational efficiency
Single-fleet carriers have a more significant opportunity to improve the operational efficiency of their aircraft. Having a single type of aircraft means airport turnaround times are better managed. The ground staff is well accustomed to the tasks they perform regularly. The airline can customize its digital processes, software, and documentation to the specific aircraft type, making the job much easier. The airline also has better control over the fuel efficiency of its aircraft.
Photo: Leonard Zhukovsky / Shutterstock
Pilots are more aware of the aircraft’s performance characteristics and can maximize the specific aircraft’s fuel efficiency. Similarly, the engines can be tuned to optimize thrust performance based on the flight the aircraft is operating. For example, engines operating in hot temperatures and higher altitudes can be optimized to generate the required thrust.
Conversely, engines operating in cold and sea-level conditions can have a reduced thrust level for optimal performance. Minor efficiency optimizations like these translate into cost savings in the highly competitive aviation industry.
What are your thoughts on some of the most significant advantages of having a single fleet for low-cost airlines? Tell us in the comments section.
Sources: Ryanair, Southwest, easyJet