In July American Airlines came in 15th in on-time performance for North American (.pdf). They weren’t just behind Delta, Hawaiian and Alaska but also United and Southwest and even Spirit. Despite a company-wide push to depart exactly on-time over everything else, they don’t seem to be arriving on-time.
This has been an ongoing issue. They fared poorly in June including leading the way in cancellations. Indeed United started outperforming American’s operation early in the year.
American Airlines President Robert Isom acknowledged to employees last week at an off the record crew forum that “it’s been a really rough summer.. since about the May timeframe.”
He identified several reasons for American’s subpar operational performance.
- Weather. He identifies “weather as a big-time issue in Miami all summer long, in Charlotte all summer long, in Philadelphia.” He doesn’t really argue that weather is worse year-over-year, or worse for American, but he acknowledges his airline needs to do a better job recovering during irregular operations, that “we’ve got to figure out a way to use technology…that we don’t have today, it’s a lot of brute force and manpower that goes to things.”
- Southwest’s accident. Isom says American has had an issue “getting our airline up and running in the morning.” He identifies the engine that powered Southwest’s 737s and caused a disaster in April as a problem for American. The CFM56-7s power American’s 737s, and they had to “put over 600 engines through check.” That meant trading off with other maintenance work they could have been doing.
- Old planes. He says that “some of our older fleets that are going to be retiring, thank goodness, Super 80s and 76s” have taken a lot of maintenance work but “we suffered through a month for sure where we had about 25% of our aircraft that needed spares almost.”
- Degradation in performance of 787s. These were reliable when they came into the fleet after some “teething pains” but “we’ve seen some degradation in performance that have been due to airframes and engines and components” and that’s taken a lot of maintenance work.
The common thread among these issues is maintenance. They’ve had to do more maintenance work, and had to prioritize maintenance work. And they’ve done this without a new contract for mechanics which has meant plenty of unhappy mechanics at American.
Isom “thank[s] our techops team, the mechanics out on the line” and he says that the number of out of service aircraft in the morning is lower, and there’s been “a nice improvement” in “Flagship performance.” However I’ve also seen reports that many delays have been caused by unhappy mechanics.