European Narrowbody Taxi Times Fall – But It Isn’t All Good News

The average taxi time for narrowbodies at major European Airports has fallen. While the news is generally positive for airlines, it can have some negative impacts, given that flights are now no longer where they are expected to be at any given time.

Eurocontrol, Narrowbody, Taxi Time
Narrowbodies have benefited from shorter taxi times in Europe over the summer. Photo: Getty Images

You would think that shorter taxi times are good for flights and passengers. After all, nobody celebrates when they land on the Polderbahn at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. Generally, shorter taxi times are good for aviation and passengers, though there can be some drawbacks as was today illustrated by the European aerospace coordinator, Eurocontrol.

Taxi times drop by up to nine minutes

According to data released by Eurocontrol today, some European airports have seen their taxi times drop by as much as nine minutes compared to 2019. The data accounts for the IATA summer period despite a traffic recovery of 60-70% across the continent this summer.

The airports that saw the most significant reduction came from across Europe. Istanbul’s award-winning new airport saw one of the most significant drops, with the average taxi-out time for narrowbodies falling from 24 minutes in 2019 to just 15 minutes in 2021. Gatwick saw a similar drop, falling from 22 minutes to 13 minutes. Other significant airports that saw substantial decreases were London Heathrow and Dublin, where taxi-out times dropped to 14 and 11 minutes respectively.

Eurocontrol, Narrowbody, Taxi Time
Taxi times have fallen the most in Istanbul and London. Photo: Eurocontrol

In general, these drops are good for the industry. Shorter taxi times mean that engines are running for less time, meaning fewer CO2 emissions. If the time savings persist, they also mean more efficient fleet planning for airlines, while passengers spend less time in a metal tube.

The downsides of saving time

While it may be hard to believe, there are actually some downsides to short-haul flights saving time during the taxi phase. The downsides all come from the fact that there is more uncertainty when flights take off early, given that not all flights will take off equally early.

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Eurocontrol revealed that early flights could lead to congestion in specific parts of airspace, especially when they take off ten or more minutes earlier than expected. The opposite can also occur, with some airspace being flow regulated to stop it from becoming overloaded. The first scenario increases pressure on air traffic controllers, while the second can lead to unnecessary delays.

Long Haul, Low Cost, Successful
Flights taking off early can have unintended consequences. Photo: Getty Images

Additionally, if the aircraft takes off early and all goes to plan during the flight, it arrives at the destination airport early, which may not be expecting or ready to deal with the plane. Finally, airlines will still build their operations around the expected flight times. This means that aircraft will carry more fuel than is needed. While this sounds negligible, it adds up across the fleet over time.

Despite the drawbacks, Eurocontrol reiterated that taxi time reductions are welcome but need to become stable so that airlines can plan for them with confidence.

Were you aware of the problems caused by shorter taxi times? Let us know what you think and why in the comments!