One the early adages we all learn as a kid is “you can have too much of a good thing” and while in our youth with perceived invincibility it’s hard for us to truly internalize this until we start acquiring a few of those age lines around our eyes that only come with the wisdom of years. However It seems we are always looking for a good thing even after we figure this out and even after we know better as it’s what we do, be it our drive or for a pay check the outcome is the same. Ok, you’re asking what has me waxing so poetically about this topic?
Having just attended an executive course at MIT titled “Developing a Leading Edge Operations Strategy” which was comprised of a number of case studies much like one experiences in Graduate school, one caught my attention. This one was for Southwest Airlines™ discussing their operations model as there were kudus and accolades bestowed upon them by the professor at the front of the lecture hall who spoke with authority as gusto if you will for what they have done. However having flown them several times, as an experienced traveler just did not share the same feelings however sat there with an open mind as hey since the horse is at the water’s edge, maybe he can learn to drink. As the case study for Southwest to save you the boring details was focused on turn around time as the key to operating nirvana, as the key is to turn the plane around as fast as possible as if wasn’t carrying fee paying passengers, the very expensive machine at the heart of their business, the airplane was losing money.
Now business is all about making money and keeping high priced assets such as planes, trains, ships, heavy equipment and the like moving is a key to a business success which utilizes these devices in their operations. Here Southwest Airlines ™ is no different however on April 1st one of their Boeing 737-300 used for the Southwest Airlines ™ flight 812 from Phoenix to Sacramento was forced to make an emergency landing, following a five-foot hole appearing in the upper-fuselage skin. Alright, we have Murphy and Black Swans out there so things happen, however what caught my eye was a story in the Economist titled “Old before Their Time” discussing this very topic. As the article even referenced airline engineers stating the age of the craft at only 15 years to not be an issue as its still considered to be in the prime of its operating life. However what they mentioned as an issue was the cycle time, as the number of times the plane is flown the greater the “cycle stress” as it turns out taking off and landing put the most stress on the plane as each one of these actions creates a “fatigue cycle”.
Yes I know go figure, its like your car as its reliability has a tighter correlation to the miles driven than it does age as a 4 year old car with 20,000 miles will be far more reliable then one of the same age which has seen 120,000 miles. However the greater point which is concerning was in the business model increased cycles where considered “free”, where in fact common sense tells you this is not the case as everything has a limited number of “stress cycles”. Here again we come to the world being Zero Sum as if cycles are finite the only thing left to talk about is “distribution”. As if those “cycles” are used in 5 years or 15, it’s only the distribution of the cycles over time which we can influence and not the number of them…
P.S. Also yes I understand the “time value” of money, however again do not find yourself caught in a false economy as the original Boeing 747-100 sold for 29 million while the 747-400 sells for nearly 10 times as much (250+ million). Thus one needs to look closely at the transaction curve as one could make a case that high cycle times while logical are as mentioned a “false economy” as longevity may in fact provide a greater ROI then “cycle time” alone.