anna.aero’s latest great global LCC network strategy comparison; 11 of the world’s best analysed and compared
Last year anna.aero undertook its second network comparison of 11 of the world’s leading low-cost airlines. This week anna.aero again takes a closer look at the network characteristics of 11 of the world’s most significant LCCs, and explores what developments have occurred during the last 12 months.
- North America: JetBlue, Southwest, Westjet
- South America: GOL, Interjet
- Europe: easyJet, Ryanair
- Middle East: Air Arabia (including Air Arabia Maroc and Air Arabia Egypt), flydubai
- Asia-Pacific: AirAsia (including Thai AirAsia and Indonesia Air Asia), IndiGo
Since last year we have removed from our analysis AirTran (which is currently being merged with Southwest), Virgin Blue (now known as Virgin Australia but increasingly less of a true low-cost airline) and Tiger Airways (which has been left out this year because of the problems with the airline’s Australian subsidiary). In their places we have added the market leading LCCs in India (IndiGo which now has a 20% share of the domestic market and recently started international services) and Mexico (Interjet which now has over 26% of the Mexican domestic market), and also flydubai, the rapidly-expanding LCC in the Middle East.
Southwest routes still average more than three daily flights
Southwest has the highest average route frequency of any of the LCCs studied. It operates flights predominantly on fairly dense city pairs where multiple daily frequencies are feasible. Its average weekly frequency on routes across its network is the equivalent of well over three daily flights. Just two routes (between Denver and Milwaukee, and between Austin and Harlingen) are served less than daily, and even these routes are served with six weekly flights. The highest frequency route is between Dallas Love Field and Houston Hobby where the airline operates around 150 weekly departures in each direction, equivalent to more than 21 daily flights.
Southwest is one of five of the 11 carriers to have seen their average weekly frequency fall. Interestingly the remaining four carriers are all those with the lowest average weekly frequency; flydubai, easyJet, Air Arabia and Ryanair. In contrast six carriers have seen average weekly frequency grow, notably Mexico’s Interjet which has been able to take advantage of the partial vacuum left by the demise of Mexicana in Mexico City to start a number of higher-frequency routes.
At the bottom of this ranking comes Ryanair who average just 4.6 weekly flights on each route. Just one of the over 1,100 routes it operates is served with more than five daily flights and that is the London Stansted to Dublin route which currently has 47 weekly departures. The airline now operates over 360 routes with just one or two frequencies per week.
Air Arabia and Interjet at opposite ends of sector length rankings
Since last year those airlines with the longest average sector length have seen some reduction in this metric. Air Arabia, JetBlue and Westjet have all seen small falls with JetBlue the most significant at 4.1%. Conversely Ryanair has seen its average sector length increase by over 8% in the last year with the airline’s increased presence in the Canary Islands south-west of mainland Spain.
GOL’s short average sector length is influenced by the fact that its busiest route (183 weekly departures) between Sao Paulo (Congonhas) and Rio De Janeiro (Santos Dumont) is just 366 kilometres. Interjet with its predominantly Mexican domestic network (plus routes to Cuba and Guatemala) just edges GOL to have the shortest average sector length among the basket of 11 airlines analysed.
Ryanair passes 1,100 routes mark
Despite a modest increase in flights of just 3.5%, Ryanair has grown its network by almost 12% from 1,028 routes to 1,148 routes, the fastest growth of any of the top seven airlines in this category. However, this net gain of 120 routes disguises the fact that the airline has also dropped many routes resulting in the Irish carrier actually having started well in excess of 250 new routes during the last 12 months. easyJet has passed Southwest to move into second place in this category, but Southwest will regain this position as and when full integration with AirTran is completed.
During the last year the LCCs based in the Middle East have grown their networks fastest; Air Arabia (and its affiliates) by 38%, and flydubai by 76%, although it should be noted that growing quickly in percentage terms is always easiest when airlines are relatively small.
Europe’s two big LCCs have greatest network spread
Europe’s two largest LCCs are also the leaders when it comes to finding viable airports to operate from. Ryanair’s network has now passed the 150 airport mark, but has only seen a net gain of two airports in the last year. easyJet has grown by eight airports while flydubai has added 16 airports (and hence 16 routes).
Southwest, in 40 years of profitable operations, currently operates from just 72 airports in the US, an increase of three in the last 12 months with the addition of Charleston and Greenville-Spartanburg in South Carolina in mid-March, and Newark at the end of March. Again, with full integration of AirTran this will grow considerably. Southwest has already announced plans for its first five Atlanta routes starting next February followed by two more in March.
Southwest still twice as big as Ryanair
Despite a modest 0.5% reduction in weekly departures compared with last September, Southwest still easily operates more than twice as many flights per week than Ryanair. flydubai and Interjet have both seen aircraft movement growth of over 70% in the last year while IndiGo has grown by almost 40%. Overall across the selection of 11 LCCs the number of weekly departures has grown by just under 7%.