This is meant to be an experiment, so that's my excuse for some of my more questionable route choices.
Stat geekery ahead, including a look at ASK/RPK, why I think they're pointless, and what I'd use as a replacement stat, if we were able to put it in. And as always, I'm making it up as I go along, pointing out things I notice, and may not be hugely coherent. Feel free to skip to the conclusions at the end...
I need to be making about 250k/plane/month to even think about breaking even, and I need to be making about 400k/plane/month to think about breaking even once I factor in leasing & maintenance. I'll call it 360k/month, 12k/day, $500/hour. If a route can conceivably make me $500/hour, then breaking even is somewhat feasible, if I fly 24 hours/day.
So, my current routes...
Plovdiv: 74 NM. 3 flights. 2:50 round trip. At 100% full, $1600 profit. $565/hour. Fuel is about $250, other costs about $1400. Actual profit across all 3 is $416/hour. RPK is 132, ASK is ~115.
Varna: 197NM, 5 flights, 4:10 round trip. At 100% full, $1265 profit. $304/hour. Fuel is $520, other costs $1600. Actual profit ignoring the night flights is $275/hour. RPK is 52, ASK 50.
Burgas: 181NM, 4 flights, 4:00 round trip. At 100% full, $1300 profit. $325/hour. Fuel is $500, other costs $1560. Actual profit $220/hour. RPK is 56, ASK 49.
Thessaloniki: 132NM, 3 flights, 3:35 round trip. At 100% full, $1490 profit, $416/hour. Fuel is $400, other costs $1530. Actual profit $155/hour. RPK is 78, ASK 56.
Athens: 287 NM, 3 flights, 5:05 round trip. At 100% full, $971 profit, $191/hour. Fuel is $700, other costs $1880. Actual profit, on 89% full plane, is $114/hour. That one extra seat each way is an extra $398, $78/hour. RPK 37, ASK 32
Kavala: 120 NM, 1 flight, 3:05. 100% full, $1750 profit, $568/hour. Fuel is $337, other costs $1284. Actual profit $142. RPK 85, ASK 49
The rest of the flights aren't full enough to be making much profit at all. They're all below $100/hour, or in a lot of cases, below 0. But I've still got ASK numbers of 58, 42, and a couple of others above what Athens has.
Bucharest HC: 162NM, 3:50. 100% full, $1481, $386/hour. $450 fuel, $1542 others.
Pogdorica: 185 NM, 3:45. 100% full, $1700, $454/hour, $460 fuel, $1330 others.
Istanbul-S: 285 NM, 4:55. 100% full, $257/hour, $650 fuel, $1670 others
I'll just list the longer, stupider routes, leave out the other 150-300 NM ones, as they're similar.
Odessa, 383 NM, 5:45, potential profit of $205/hour. Even though the round trip length is double Plovdiv's, the potential revenue is just 15% higher.
Ganja, 1030 NM, 11:15. 4 times the length of Varna, less than 25% increase in ticket prices. I don't think that disparity will be as glaring in bigger planes, with longer turn times. Think I'll run at least two more test airlines in the rest of MT, see what I can find out. Fuel is $2300, and what I find really strange is that despite there being just 2 people on the plane, vs 7-9 for the other flights I've listed, and despite Ganja being a much smaller airport than the others, the other costs of ground handling/pax/landing/nav fees are $2000, 40% higher than the route to Plovdiv. I'd assume handling/pax/landing are significantly less, and am surprised nav fees make that much difference. The game clearly breaks down those 4 individually somewhere, as they're separate entries on your income statement. Time for a feature request to make them viewable on a route by route basis. Unless I can do it already, and haven't noticed. Anyway, my best case for Ganja is actually to lose about $30/hour. My best case just for revenue is $350/hour.
Lahore, 2491 NM, 26:20. I haven't found a single, virtual AWS pax silly enough to buy a ticket for this yet. I just dropped the price to $10, curious if anyone will pay for that. There is ~50 demand, and I was nice enough to put in 8 standard seats, not 9 HD ones. fuel is 5000, other costs are 4200, presumably so high thanks to the tech stop & the length. So my best case is losing $60/hour. But if I had a profitable airline, I'd leave it flying.
*update* I have just discovered the system sets minimum prices. 100/200/500 in this case, when default is 483/1308/2190. But 2 people paid $100 each to fly from Bulgaria to Pakistan on an 8 seat plane.
I'm officially a LH airline.
So, looking at all that, there are a few conclusions:
Shorter flights are significantly better. The only flights with a hope of approcahing my $500/hour benchmark are those under 125NM, plus a few under 200NM to smaller airports, where the fees are less. Anything beyond that, and I'd need full planes and significantly upgraded prices to approach my break-even point. Also, if I don't actually fly 24 hours/day, that break-even point gets higher.
Even on the best route, the expenses are just over half the potential revenue. That means if I only sell 8 instead of 9 seats, I'm looking at 22% of my route profit gone, taking me from ~10% above break even to ~10% below. That's a significant difference.
The fuel expenses aren't really an issue. The ground handling, etc are significant. Flying into my size 4 HQ, even on the shortest of routes, costs about $800 in fees, $100 per pax on a $180-190 ticket.
Therefore, what I really need is a smaller HQ airport, with quite a few very short, very empty routes. US might have it, but staff costs are going to be expensive. Though my current level of 200k/month/plane works out to be under $30/hour. Even if US wages are double, that could easily be offset by more short routes. So, time to find myself an airport, and restart, try and keep staff a bit lower, stick to short routes only, and see what happens. If I can actually show long term ability to break even, I'll be pretty happy.
And on revenue/ASK: As you can see, the order of RPK/ASK does not correspond to which is the most profitable flight. Which is one reason I don't think it is useful. to me, profit/hour is a much more useful stat, because it actually allows you to directly compare routes. Can compare them across planes if you want to, as well, if you work out the plane's expenses/hour. Lets you see the optimal leg length, lets you see how much you're punished for a non-optimal leg. Which RPK/ASK can't do. If you sort all routes on a given plane type by RPK, you're basically just sorting by leg length. Sort by ASK, and it's just a combination of leg length & LF. If you could show profit/hour, that would actually be helpful to me. I think it would be an easy stat to generate. Profit is already in the route stats, and for the time, I'd use flight time + 2 x what you have set the turn time for that plane to. So that would offer me useful data, and if for some reason I habitually used short turns, that would be reflected in the numbers too.