Editor’s Note: The US Senate is currently debating the FAA Reauthorization Bill. One of the contentious issues is a proposal – included in the US House version of the bill, passed July 20 – to allow more time in flight simulators to count against the required 1500 ‘flight time’ hours, which was instituted as a Congressional reaction following the 2009 Colgan Air crash.


The views expressed are the author’s.


Airlines lose billions of dollars annually due to delays and cancellations (D&Cs).1,2 Competency-based pilot training could be a way of reducing millions in operating expenses due to D&Cs and increasing revenues by decreasing the number of dissatisfied passengers.

Our focus here is on how applying the competencies acquired in Competency-Based Training and Assessment (CBTA) can help better manage threats, errors and undesired aircraft states, reducing delays and cancellations (D&Cs) and thus operating costs.

Traditional Pilot Training

As we know, traditional pilot training focuses on developing and regularly testing proficiencies in completing tasks such as performing a takeoff. And it trains what to do in the case of known emergency situations such as windshear at takeoff/landing.

Although rigorous, this training approach in many ways does not sufficiently develop competencies needed in TEM,3 or for managing surprise and unstable situations.

CBTA: An Opportunity to Improve Safety and Reduce Costs

By contrast, CBTA fills these gaps, developing capabilities which pilots can invoke in handling threats, errors and surprises instead of merely focusing on more or less standardized events:4

In 2007, Airbus initiated a competency- and evidenced-based approach developing the capabilities to filter and process the evidence of a situation at hand, and take and implement optimized decisions in the cockpit.5 

If applied to situations such as the following, these competencies can reduce costly D&Cs and  related costs such as lost passenger business6:

  • No dispatch
  • MEL dispatch
  • Return to gate
  • In-flight return to departure
  • En route diversion
  • Alternative destination
  • Fuel efficient descent
  • Approach stabilization
  • No dispatch
  • Other surprises

Unfortunately, pilots’ capabilities to manage threats, errors and unstable states decline in the course of a flight due to fatigue. Evidence- and competency-based training sharpens competencies such as workload management and communications even under conditions of duress.

Anatomy of D&C Costs

Although D&C7 costs depend on aircraft type and size, route, airport, weather, the length of a delay, airline cost structure, and a host of other factors, they normally are calculated to include direct and indirect costs. Our approach is to include only direct operating costs and the impact on passenger revenues in calculating D&C costs per minute.

Calendar Year 20218

Direct Aircraft Operating Cost per Block Minute

Crew – Pilots/Flight Attendants

$                   28.14


$                   22.50


$                   14.84

Aircraft Ownership

$                   12.06


$                     2.99

Total Direct Operating Costs

$                   80.52

Lost Passenger Revenues9

$                   25.77

Total Costs Relevant for D&Cs

$                      106.2910

Indirect Costs are Real

Most D&C cost calculations ignore lost customer business resulting from D&Cs, although it is intuitive that delays can cause customers to avoid an airline or booking a flight altogether. Although studies and data on the relationship between D&Cs and lost customer business are scarce, an FAA study places lost passenger revenues at 32% of airline direct operating costs.11

With social media providing a platform for communicating good and bad news on airline punctuality and experiences, passengers are likely to react even more swiftly in their buying behavior.

A Sample ROI Calculation

Obviously not all D&Cs can be reduced—only those which are pilot controllable.12 These typically make up 15-25% of all D&Cs, depending on the airline, route and other circumstances. 

Furthermore, we adjust the number of D&Cs downward by the proportion attributable to CBTA (the so-called “learning margin”). The learning margin is the extent to which CBTA contributed to preventing a D&C, above and beyond the skills and knowledge a pilot already possessed, and usually hovers around 50%.13


Sample SMART ROI® Calculation (12 months)14

2022 estimated

D&C cost per minute15

 $                  113.73 

Average D&C in minutes


Total number of D&C minutes16


Total D&C cost

 $ 170,595,000.00 

Proportion of pilot controllable D&Cs

 $    34,119,000.00 

CBTA “learning margin” applied


Remaining D&C value

 $    17,059,500.00 

Number of D&C minutes reduced due to CBTA


Avoided D&C cost

 $      1,705,950.00 

Cost of CBTA training including Simulator: $200,000

 $          150,000.00 

Return on investment (ROI) of CBTA

 $      1,555,950.00 

ROI in %




[1] https://www.allthingsontimeperformance.com/flight-delays-in-numbers-not-only-painful-for-passengers/

2 FAA and University of California, Berkeley, 2010

3  Threat and Error Management (TEM) in Flight Operations | SKYbrary Aviation Safety

4 Capt. Renier, Yann, Competency-Based Training and Assessment (CBTA), IATA

5 https://safetyfirst.airbus.com/learning-from-the-evidence/

6 Capt. Maurino, Dan, Threat and Error Management (TEM), 2005

7 A D&C is a delay of 15 minutes or more, which is the FAA’s definition of a D&C.

8 Airlines for America, U.S. Passenger Carrier Delay Costs, July 12, 2022

9 FAA and University of California, Berkeley, 2010

10 With U.S. inflation at 7% in 2022, the total costs can be estimated to be $113.73 for 2022

11 FAA and University of California, Berkeley, 2010

12 D&C’s controllable by pilots:


Cabin crew error or special request


Operational requirements, fuel, load alteration


Flight plan, late completion or change of flight documentation


Late crew boarding or departure procedures


Aircraft documentation late or inaccurate, weight and balance (Loadsheet), general declaration, passenger manifest, etc.


Fuelling, Defuelling, fuel supplier


Passenger or Load Connection, awaiting load or passengers from another flight. Protection of stranded passengers onto a new flight.


Operations control, rerouting, diversion, consolidation, aircraft change for reasons other than technical


De-Icing of aircraft, removal of ice/snow, frost prevention


En route or Alternate



13 Experiential values of SMART ROI®

14 Proportions are hypothetical to preserve client confidentiality, but are close to a generalized reality scenario.

15 Applying 2021 D&C costs from Airlines for America, U.S. Passenger Carrier Delay Costs, July 12, 2022 plus lost passenger revenues and multiplied by 7% U.S. inflation for 2022. Global inflation was 9%.

16 Hypothetical number of total D&C minutes based on industry data.

William Cox is CEO of Management & Excellence and author of SMART ROI®, a proprietary method to calculate the financial returns from human processes used in over 150 client projects worldwide, including airlines and aviation OEMs. Cox received his PhD from the London School of Economics, a graduate finance degree from Oxford and other degrees/certificates from Boston and Harvard Universities.