How Fast You Can Actually Fly: A Comparative Investigation of Flight Airborne Time in China and the U.S

01/21/2020 ∙ by Ke Liu, et al. ∙ 0

Actual airborne time (AAT) is the time between wheels-off and wheels-on of a flight. Understanding the behavior of AAT is increasingly important given the ever growing demand for air travel and flight delays becoming more rampant. As no research on AAT exists, this paper performs the first empirical analysis of AAT behavior, comparatively for the U.S. and China. The focus is on how AAT is affected by scheduled block time (SBT), origin-destination (OD) distance, and the possible pressure to reduce AAT from other parts of flight operations. Multiple econometric models are developed. The estimation results show that in both countries AAT is highly correlated with SBT and OD distance. Flights in the U.S. are faster than in China. On the other hand, facing ground delay prior to takeoff, a flight has limited capability to speed up. The pressure from short turnaround time after landing to reduce AAT is immaterial. Sensitivity analysis of AAT to flight length and aircraft utilization is further conducted. Given the more abundant airspace, flexible routing networks, and efficient ATFM procedures, a counterfactual that the AAT behavior in the U.S. were adopted in China is examined. We find that by doing so significant efficiency gains could be achieved in the Chinese air traffic system. On average, 11.8 minutes of AAT per flight would be saved, coming from both reduction in SBT and reduction in AAT relative to the new SBT. Systemwide fuel saving would amount to over 300 million gallons with direct airline operating cost saving of nearly 1.3 billion nationwide in 2016.

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