US DOT data show clear cost advantage for new aircraft


It has been seven months since we took a look at the changing face of the transcon market between LAX and JFK. The US Department of Transportation releases statistics on a three-month delay, so we are just getting a picture of the industry for the first half of the year now. The statistics back up what everyone who flies already knew: US domestic airline market has come back with a roar. Airlines are posting record profits, and planes are packed to the gills with 84.6 % of domestic seats filled system-wide.

With this renewed market strength, American added a 13th daily flight between LAX and JFK and JetBlue has added a 6th, replacing one of its two daily flights between Long Beach and New York with another frequency to LAX. These two extra flights have raised capacity 2.8% over the old schedules and aircraft, when the carriers had initially planned to cut capacity by 4.5% on the route.

All 19 JetBlue and American flights are served with brand new, sharklet equipped Airbus A321 aircraft. For JetBlue, the new aircraft offer new revenue opportunities with its competitively priced Mint full-flat premium product. For American, the aircraft offer substantial cost savings over the Reagan-era vintage 767-200s. Both have performed extremely well.

The chart below compares second quarter 2013 operating costs of the 767-200ERs with second quarter 2014 operating costs of the A321s on a per seat hour basis. Remember that seat count on the 762 is higher, and the full-flat seats on the A321 have a much bigger footprint relative to Y than the recliners on the 762s. If the J seats were the same size, the A321 would win handily.

Carrier Aircraft F J Y+ Y
AA 762ER $90.49 $59.79 $- $32.32
AA A321 $94.34 $66.16 $21.13 $18.38

What’s clear is that the operational cost savings afforded by new aircraft cannot be understated. Year over year, American has seen total operational costs per hour drop 46% on its transcon aircraft, from $6,835 per hour to $3,689 per hour. Similarly, JetBlue’s A321 aircraft are less expensive to operate per hour than their A320 stable-mates [see note 1 below]. United’s 737-900ERs, which see considerable use to West Coast destinations from Newark are less expensive per hour to operate than any other aircraft in United’s mainline fleet.

United LAX to Newark operations have been scaled back, with one frequency being cut. However airplane geeks are spoilt for choice as an astounding six different types of aircraft serve the route.

Cost Per Seat Hour by Cabin
Carrier Aircraft F J Y+ Y
AA A321 $94.34 $66.16 $21.13 $18.38
DL B763ER $- $80.18 $38.09 $28.64
DL B752 $- $79.55 $41.33 $31.07
VX A320 $- $85.47 $37.89 $28.49
B6 A320 $- $- $38.10 $28.65
B6 A321 $- $59.76 $27.08 $20.36
UA (PS) B752 (PS) $- $87.13 $38.63 $29.04
UA B738 $- $58.88 $34.80 $26.17
UA B739 $- $47.04 $27.81 $20.91
UA A320 $- $65.99 $39.00 $29.33
UA A319 $- $72.54 $42.88 $32.24
UA B753 $- $60.21 $35.59 $26.76
UA (Int’l) B752 $- $85.52 $37.92 $28.51

[1] However the JetBlue A321s are still more expensive to operate than American’s due to the fact that JetBlue utilizes them on shorter regional routes, which are more expensive per mile to fly. American’s A321 are limited to transcon operations.