Flight delayed too often? Why Jet Airways is facing timing headwinds

If you are a Jet Airways frequent flyer, the chances are that you have faced a delayed flight more than once in recent months.

Over the past four months, the airline has been the worst performer on punctuality in domestic routes, with on-time performance (OTP) of 54 per cent in November. Meaning, it barely managed to operate half its flights on schedule.

Its rivals, SpiceJet and IndiGo, had an OTP above 80  per cent. Why is Jet struggling so to be punctual?

A combination of factors: From increase in utilisation of fleet to shortage of personnel to infrastructure bottlenecks at Mumbai airport, its hub. Resulting in serial delays, with the airline facing passengers’ ire on social media.

Airline sources suggest a push to increase utility of aircraft has resulted in a tight schedule and reduced turnaround time. The latter is the term for the time needed to service a plane after its arrival, to prepare it for the next flight.

Unlike peers, Jet’s fleet has not expanded much over the past two years. Most of its capacity increase has come through more flying hours of the Boeing 737, the mainstay of its fleet and used on both domestic and short-haul international routes. It has 78 such planes.

The airline has been gradually increasing the utilisation of its Boeing 737s, up from an earlier 11.25  hours to 13.2 hours daily, among the world’s highest, it said in a recent investor presentation. As a result, it was able to increase its domestic capacity by around 30 per cent in the past three years. The airline added around 25 daily flights on short-haul and long-haul routes in its winter schedule.

“The schedule has become tight and there is little room for flexibility. It does not allow for schedule recovery by swapping in case the operating aircraft is delayed or develops snags. As such, a single flight delay has a knock-on effect on all flights operated with that aircraft,” said an airline source.

The increased work hours has been accompanied by a shortage in human resources. Sources suggest the airline has not been adding engineers, as part of a cost-cutting exercise. “With less manpower, compulsory transit checks are getting delayed, resulting in pressure on the network,” said an engineer with Jet.

Airline sources also blame the congestion at Mumbai airport for delays. Jet is based out of Mumbai, operating most of its flights from the city. “Take a look at other airlines’ OTP at Mumbai and it shows there is an operation problem,” a senior airline executive said. Mumbai had an OTP average of 64 per cent in November, worst in the country.

Jet’s management is trying to addressing the issue and daily review meetings are being held to improve punctuality.  The airline is also looking to tweak schedules of some of its flights by addressing block times (total time a flight takes, from push-back at the departure gate to arriving at the destination gate) and inducting additional Boeing 737s. “Addition of the 737 Max from mid next-year will change the scenario,” the airline executive said.

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