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On Time Performance – Middle East Airlines – Winners and Losers


On time Performance – Middle East – Winners and Loser


At the beginning of each year, data analytics companies rush to declare the winners and losers in the competition of On Time Performance. Airlines are ranked globally, regionally and by type of operation

Something that started as an oversight activity in the US, with the Bureau of Transport Statistics publishing a list of punctuality statistics for airlines. This soon became a global airline metric for airlines. What percentage of your flights arrived on time or

Few metrics are as global as On Time Performance. Airlines seem to accept it as a global standard that shows their efficiency and process competence.

“Turning” an aircraft around is a complex endeavor. Fuelling, catering, baggage, boarding, crew change, maintenance. All are done in ever squeezing schedules to allow airplanes to continue flying and generate revenue.

That unfortunately is not true at the present time. Especially in the Middle East.

When we look at the data, we realize that many airlines have benefitted from the lack of operations to streamline processes and reduce delays. An added value to the passengers, no doubt. However, observers note that these improvements are not driven by any concrete changes but rather by over capacity in airports and airlines

Whether they will stand the test of time is to be seen.

Case in point: Royal Jordanian Airlines, which operated 12,912 flights in 2021, less than 40% of what it had operated in 2019. While it increased its On time Performance by more than 11 percentage points, experts insist this is only temporary.

“They have far fewer flights and therefore can afford to throw more staff at each flight,” One expert explained. “If you didn’t fire 60% of your staff but you operated 60% less flights, you are lucky. But only when it comes to turning flight”

Staffing level in Royal Jordanian has remained high, noting government restrictions on dismissing and furloughing staff during the pandemic. Therefore, more resources were potentially available to operate flights.

In addition to the down turn in number of flights, a major component of delay has all but disappeared. Air Traffic Control delays, especially in Europe, were a headache for airlines and staff alike.

However, the down-turn in flying has availed more tarmac and capacity which in turn lowered delays. Knock-on delays left 

“Royal Jordanian’s schedule was constrained in the West and East by slots which were basically immovable, a delay in Frankfurt due to ATC [Air Traffic Control], will delay their flight into Riyadh or something, there is nothing they could do. Come 2023, this will happen again, unless they rebuild a new schedule.” Another expert opined. 


Cirium 2021 vs 2019

For the purpose of this article, we used the analysis done by Cirium on Airline On Time Performance. Based on data by Flightstats. This is one of the two biggest reports on the topic. The second being OAG’s Punctuality league

For obvious reasons, 2020 was not a year to compare against. 

Three examples in the Middle East will be featured in order to understand the variables that make or break an airline’s 

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Emirates Airlines

Around 30% of 2019 was operated in 2021, they managed to ease some of their base delays. Dubai was notorious for Air Traffic Control delays and weather delays frequently ran into two days of disruption management. 

Operating below peak conditions allowed them to improve by 5 percentage points. In addition to strong scheduling and block time management

A large reserve of equipment and on-call “on-leave” crew, made their medium term planning very agile

Qatar Airways

A yo-yoing operable fleet size and the previously covered row with airbus, made the airline park and unpark equipment. 

Crew are reporting fatigue issues more adamantly and their layoffs and furloughs came back to bite them quickly.

A 3% reduction in On Time Performance seemed negative, but then they only operated 36% of their 2019 flights in 2021

This is an airline that loves to show off its accolades. However, it is important to note that the grounding of A350s and bringing back some A380 sould not have been kind to their schedules and turn arounds 

Royal Jordanian Airlines

A change in leadership is pushing for a culture change. The CEO is rumored to be a micro-manager with a keen eye for detail that follows delay write-ups relegiously.

In addition to below peak conditions and a change of focus to a more regional role. RJ operates an evening wave into many airports in the region, where the airports are empty and the handlers are more responsive. 

An 11 percentage points increase in OTP is remarkable, only if it sustainable. As they re-introduce some of their destinations



On Time Performance is one metric

While airlines pride themselves on being on-time and punctual, let us keep in mind that this is just one metric. It does show the experience of the airline, their commitment to schedule, etc..

Being on time saves money, delights passenger and makes the journey more predictable and manageable. However, seen in the bigger picture, these days, it tells a different story. A story of furloughs, aircraft deliveries, difficult operations and different operations.

It is important to keep in mind that post-COVID delays are structurally different. Capacity and tarmac delays are virtually non-existent except in some leisure destinations. It is being replaced by new types of delays.




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