Airlines started 3,000+ new routes in 2016; Ryanair back on top beating easyJet and Wizz Air as Euro and US (U)LCCs dominate
Ryanair has re-asserted itself as the world’s number one airline for new route launches in 2016. After unexpectedly only tying with easyJet in 2015 (when both carriers launched 99 new routes) the Irish ULCC was a clear winner last year starting service on 200 new airport pairs, easily beating its nearest rivals, fellow European LCCs easyJet and Wizz Air. In total we identified 3,042 new services started by airlines across the world in 2016, down very slightly from the 3,109 we found in 2015. Over half of the new services in 2016 (55%) were on airport pairs not served by any other carrier. The average frequency of the new services launched was 4.1 flights per week. On routes already served by other carriers the average weekly frequency of the new services was 4.9 flights per week (up from 4.8 in 2015), while on those services that were genuinely new routes the average weekly frequency was 3.4 flights per week (the same as in 2015). Airlines used Airbus aircraft to launch around 200 more new services than were started using Boeing aircraft.
European LCCs dominate the list of the leading airlines for new route launches. Of the top 20 airlines in 2016, 13 are based in Europe, and with the exception of Flybe, could all be considered as LCCs. The airlines have a good geographic spread covering Germany (Eurowings, Germania and SunExpress Germany), Romania (Blue Air), Scandinavia (Norwegian) and the UK (Flybe and Jet2.com). Airlines like Transavia, Volotea and Vueling have pan-European operations with bases in several different countries.
The seven non-European carriers include three ULCCs (Allegiant Air, Frontier Airlines and Spirit Airlines), one LCC (Southwest Airlines) and three traditional, legacy carriers (American Airlines, China Eastern Airlines and Delta Air Lines). Six of these carriers are based in the US, with China Eastern being the obvious exception. Compared with last year’s top 20 airlines, Flybe, Transavia, Eurowings, Blue Air and Jet2.com have replaced Pobeda, Aegean Airlines, Turkish Airlines, China Southern Airlines and Aeroflot – it's pretty clear that some of those airlines have come under weighty external pressures.
US still leads way for new route launches
Airports in the US have still had more route launches to celebrate than those in any other country. In fact, there have been more than twice as many new routes started from US airports than from any other country. The runner-up spot in these rankings was hotly contested between Spain, Germany and the UK. In the end Spain repeated its 2015 achievement of being the European country generating the most new airline services. Of the top 15 countries for new services in 2016, 14 were also in the top 15 in 2015, with Poland 13th replacing Thailand (which ranked 15th in 2015).
Nesma Airlines takes on Saudia and flynas
Among routes launched that were already being served by other airlines Nesma Airlines of Saudi Arabia started a route with the highest weekly frequency, six flights per day, as it ventured into the Riyadh-Jeddah market competing against Saudi Arabian Airlines and flynas. In the US, American Airlines began connecting Los Angeles and Seattle-Tacoma, and Washington Reagan with Atlanta, both with five daily flights. JetBlue Airways also began New York LaGuardia to Boston flights with five daily frequencies, while Island Air in Hawaii began connecting Honolulu and Kona, also with five flights per day.
For previously unserved routes, at the end of October Ryanair’s new route from its biggest base London Stansted to Oslo Gardermoen was the most served genuinely-new airport-pair with 21 weekly flights (three flights per day). This was partly a reaction to the imposition of a new travel tax in Norway which meant that Ryanair abandoned its presence at Oslo Rygge and moved some services to Oslo’s biggest airport instead.
1,150 new routes already announced for 2017
As we start 2017, our New Route Database currently has details of 1,150 new services that are scheduled to start before the end of the year. These are being flown by 162 airlines. This time last year the corresponding figures were 1,100 and 170 suggesting that 2017 is indeed going to be another busy year for airline route launches. A total of 12 airlines have already indicated their intention to start over 20 new services this year (the same number as this time last year) with Ryanair, Eurowings, Jet2.com, Wizz Air, easyJet and Volotea leading the way, followed by Germania, Delta, Thomas Cook Airlines, Blue Air, Norwegian and Transavia.
Ryanair has so far announced plans to open just two new bases in 2017; in Frankfurt (Germany) and Naples (Italy). Two aircraft will be based at Lufthansa’s biggest hub, while Naples will welcome three 737-800s from May. According to the airline these will be the ULCC’s 85th and 86th bases across Europe and North Africa. easyJet will launch a seasonal base in Palma de Mallorca this year, while the German market is still in a state of flux with airberlin, Etihad Airways, Eurowings, Lufthansa, NIKI and TUIfly still sorting out who is going to operate what-for-whom this summer.
Among European flag-carriers Alitalia, British Airways, Finnair, KLM and SAS have all revealed plans for a minimum of 10 new routes starting in 2017. In the Middle East, Qatar Airways has finalised launch dates for four new routes: to Auckland (which becomes 'the longest route in the world'), Dublin, Lusaka and Nice). Curiously, local MEB3 rivals, Emirates and Etihad Airways, have so far not confirmed any new routes for this year.
Share your route launch celebrations with us
If you are an airline or airport and have pictures of route launch celebrations this year we want to see them, especially if they involve cakes, ribbon cuttings, mascots, fire truck water arch salutes, big welcome banners, celebrities, speeches, flowers, cultural dances, humane animal performances, juggling, gift exchanges etc, etc, etc. Please e-mail your pictures, ideally with names and titles of any key people involved, to firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org. We will then gladly share these pictures with our global readership.