Airlines underestimate the impact of red-eye or overnight flights on on-time performance and maintenance activity, and ultra low-cost carriers are more likely to fall into this group due to their high aircraft utilisation.
Low-cost carrier Spirit Airlines, which schedules significantly more red-eye flights than its competitors had an average delay of 15.7 minutes in January, says Josh Marks, chief executive of aviation operations data provider masFlight.
Marks was speaking at a panel on airline operations reliability at the MRO Americas conference in Atlanta.
In comparison, Virgin America, which has fewer red-eye flights scheduled, had a average delay time of 1.6 minute for its overnight flights in January.
Airlines "grossly underestimate" the impact of red-eye flights on on-time performance and maintenance activity, says Marks, adding that these carriers find it harder to "catch up" on scheduled maintenance.
Carriers which want to mitigate the impact of red-eye flights can build in additional gate time at airports, or cut down on red-eye flights. Southwest, for example, have tight aircraft turn times but it does not operate red-eye flights which allows it to absorb any flight delays, points out Marks.
Low-cost carriers like Spirit that have a high daily aircraft utilisation rate tend to suffer in their overall on-time performance. Spirit had 12.1 hours of daily aircraft utilisation in January 2013, the highest among its low-cost counterparts, points out Marks. However, the carrier had the lowest on-time performance of 72.7% during the month, he adds.