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While commercial airlines have a fleet of x aircraft, not all x aircraft will be in the air at any given time. Typically, several aircraft are in the air, some are on the ground (turnaround, loading, unloading, etc.), and some are in maintenance (not active).

What is a typical ratio of aircraft in air vs. total aircraft of an airline? I would be interested in airlines like Southwest, Hawaiian, Alaska Airlines, or FedEx. Can anyone provide some ballpark numbers on such a ratio?

(I assume this heavily depends on the type of airline, ratio of long- to shorthaul flights, budget vs. full-service vs. cargo vs. regional airline, number of total aircraft, route network, and obviously time of day (as some airlines do not operate flights during the night, or at least reduce flights during the night), etc.)

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Well here's one way to approach it:

Excluding transatlantic and transcontinental red-eye flights, most airplanes are running between 6 am and about 10 or 11 pm and are down overnight. Let's just say 18 operational hours per day, or 6570 operational hours per year (we could define operational hours as an aircraft "available for duty").

The average airliner flies between 2 and 3000 hours per year, so lets use 2500.

Being airborne 2500 hours out of 6570 operational hours means the airplanes are airborne about 38% of operating hours.

Allow for aircraft that are in the fleet but are non-operational because they are down for more than overnight; A checks, C checks, D checks, and also dispatch delays. We could adjust the percentage number down somewhat, say several percent, to allow for that.

We are left with roughly (very roughly, there will be a lot of scatter no doubt) 1/3rd, or slightly better, of a fleet airborne at any one time during the operational day, if you surveyed across a national fleet.

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