European air transport would not be the same without low cost carriers. Among the five largest airlines of Europe, ultra-budget carrier Ryanair is now number one, while Easyjet is the fifth-largest airline of the continent and could take the place of Air France-KLM this year.

It is impossible to think today about air transport in Europe without low cost carriers. In just two decades, budget airlines have totally reshaped air transport with regard to point to point relations… According to data from Eurostats, low cost carriers have conquered over 40% of the passengers traffic on short haul routes, forcing legacy carriers such as British Airways, Lufthansa or Air France or SAS Scandinavian Airlines to totally rethink their development model.

Simplified fares rules, “a-la-carte” additional services and the absence of connections combined with a high daily use of aircraft (up to 13 hours per day) and highly densified aircraft cabins are the main elements to the budget carriers’ financial success stories.

low-cost-2016_1A new historical event confirmed that low cost carriers are a fixed asset of Europe. Irish carrier Ryanair has just announced it has become Europe’s largest carrier in terms of passengers. The budget carrier transported over the last year some 119 million passengers, up by 15% over the year 2015. The growth is due to the massive expansion of the company’s fleet. The carrier has 85 bases in Europe flying over 1,800 routes linking some 200 airports. This is a network which no other airline can offer. And finally, Ryanair relies on very low fares.

12142015: Ryan Air 1st 737 BSI Interior.

Ryanair’s new Boeing interior

Ryanair is thus pushing the Lufthansa Group into second position. The group which comprises Lufthansa, Swiss, Austrian and Eurowings carried last year 110 million passengers and is followed by IAG (British Airways, Iberia and Aer Lingus) with 101 million passengers. Fourth is Air France-KLM Group with 93 million and fifth is another low cost carrier, the UK-based Easyjet with close to 76 million passengers, up by 6.6% over 2015.

Europe has now three airlines groups with over 100 million passengers including Ryanair, in 2016 Europe’s largest carrier with 119 million passengers ahead of Lutfhansa Group and IAG.

In total, Europe has three groups of carriers with over 100 million passengers a year while a total of seven airlines carry over 40 million passengers a year. Among the other big European players are Turkish Airlines and Aeroflot, followed by a group of airlines between 20 and 40 million passengers a year, including low cost carriers Norwegian, Pegasus and Wizz Air while three legacy/hybrid airlines – SAS Scandinavian Airlines, Airberlin Group and Alitalia- are also recording in that category of 20 to 40 million passengers/year.

In 2016, Wizz Air was Europe’s fastest growing low cost airline with a growth in passengers of 18.8%, allowing the carrier to transport 22.8 million travellers. The Hungarian-based airline, which is a specialist of low cost flying in Central/Eastern Europe, has 27 bases served by 73 aircraft.

low-cost-2016_2The LCC phenomenon is so highly integrated into European air transport patterns that legacy airlines are now surviving on their short-haul network by adapting similar methods to budget airlines. Low Cost subsidiaries are most of the time the fastest growing segment for Europe’s legacy carriers group. Last year, Eurowings grew by 8.8% last year to reach 18 million passengers while Lufthansa airline growth was anemic at 0.1% in 2016. At IAG, hybrid carrier Vueling is the rising star with an estimated growth of 9% last year compared to 3% to 4% for legacy carriers British Airways and Iberia. While Air France total passengers declined by 1.4% last year –mainly due to a slump in demand for Paris following terrorism acts, passengers at Transavia, the AF-KLM low cost subsidiary, reached 13 million, up by 22.5%.

2017 should confirm the trend as Europe top Low Cost Carriers and legacy low cost subsidiaries plan massive growth of their network.

  • Article by LUC CITRINO