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U.S. LCC MRO Costs Coming Down

Latest data from airline trade association reveals airline MRO outgoings.

IATA data on 20 airlines shows narrowbody maintenance cost per flight hour up significantly in 2015. But U.S. data from FAA on six low-cost and ultra-low-cost airlines, which fly all narrowbody fleets, shows a declining cost trend.

The six U.S. carriers averaged $842 in MRO spending per flight hour in 2015. That is down slightly from the previous year but down dramatically from 2013, measured in constant 2015 dollars.

Indeed, the most obvious pattern in U.S. LCC and ULCC spending is the dramatic shifts from year to year. Average costs rose from a lean $780 per flight hour in 2009 to more than $1,000 per flight hour in 2013, before receding.

Fleet age and mix might explain some of variation. Many older aircraft were grounded after the 2008-2009 financial crisis and sharp recession. That left younger jets at first, but these younger jets began to age with few replacements for several years after the recession. Then, as economies strengthened, oil prices declined and airlines grew more confident, new aircraft began coming into fleets and reducing maintenance fleet-wide cost.

What accounts for the different recent trends in cost between the U.S. and the world? Partly, it may be the fact that U.S. LCCs and ULCCS are growing faster than airlines on average, so new aircraft may be more important. And exchange rates may also play a role.

The trade-weighted value of the U.S. dollar rose about 16% from 2013 to 2015. That would push up costs for foreign firms that buy replacement parts or component repairs from the U.S., but reduce the cost of U.S. carriers that outsource airframe checks to Latin America and buy components from Europe. 

MRO Cost In 2015 $ per Flight Hour

  • 2,009 $780
  • 2,010 $778
  • 2,011 $830
  • 2,012 $998
  • 2,013 $1,032
  • 2,014 $861
  • 2,015 $842

Source: FAA Form 41 data on Southwest, JetBlue, Frontier, Virgin America, Spirit & Allegiant, and GDP deflator

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