Qatar Airways is MEB3 load factor champion to US in 2016; filled over 80% of seats on its 10 routes beating Emirates and Etihad Airways
With ‘fake news’, ‘alternative facts’ and an increase in high profile, unsubstantiated claims on all sorts of topics becoming an almost daily occurrence (at least in the US), anna.aero thought it would be a good time to take a look at a high-profile and contentious issue in the aviation world – that of the MEB3 carriers (Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways) and their services to the US. There have been suggestions that the MEB3 airlines have been flooding the US market with too much capacity but what does the data say? anna.aero found that by combining passenger data from the US Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) with capacity data from OAG Schedules Analyser we can reliably estimate monthly load factors by route on all the US services flown by the MEB3 carriers. The most recent passenger data from the US is for September 2016, so we have analysed the first three-quarters of 2016.
Looking across all routes from the airlines’ home hubs of Abu Dhabi, Doha and Dubai, the load factor champion on US routes among the MEB3 carriers is Qatar Airways. In the first nine months of last year the oneworld carrier 1.34 million passengers on its US routes at a load factor of 82%. Emirates came second, carrying more passengers (2.49 million) but at a lower load factor (75%). Finally, Etihad Airways welcomed 909,000 passengers on its US services at a load factor of 70%. [NB. We have received actual figures from the airline which are published at the bottom of this story.]
The same analysis was repeated for all of 2015 and the results were remarkably similar; Qatar Airways again led the way with an 85% load factor (carrying 1.27 million passengers) followed by Emirates (74% load factor carrying 2.80 million passengers) and Etihad Airways (67% load factor while carrying 1.15 million passengers).
Chicago O’Hare leads the way for Emirates
Looking at Emirates’ 10 US routes in 2016 by month clearly shows an element of seasonality. The best performing route by load factor is Chicago O’Hare (81%), ahead of San Francisco (80%) and Dallas/Fort Worth (79%). The routes with the with the lowest average load factors across the period January to September are Houston Intercontinental (69%), Los Angeles (70%) and Boston (72%). The airline’s fifth-freedom route from Milan Malpensa to New York JFK achieved an average load factor of 66% during the period analysed. In terms of individual months September and February have the lowest load factors for Emirates. In September the LA route even dipped below 50%.
American Airlines hubs star performers for Qatar Airways
Qatar Airways also operated to 10 US airports during the first nine months of 2016, starting new routes to Atlanta (on 1 June), Boston (16 March) and Los Angeles (1 January). Despite this it had the best overall load factors of any of the MEB3 airlines to the US. Standout performers for the Doha-based carrier were Chicago O’Hare (89%) and Dallas/Fort Worth (87%), both bases of its oneworld partner American Airlines, and Los Angeles (86%). Philadelphia (71%), Miami (77%) and Boston (78%) were the only routes to dip below the 80% mark during 2016.
Californian routes underperform for Etihad Airways
Etihad Airways only operates to six US airports. Its most recent US route launches were to Dallas/Fort Worth in December 2014 and San Francisco in November 2014. So by 2016 all of its routes could be considered reasonably mature. Despite that the Abu Dhabi-based carrier only averaged a 70% load factor across its US routes in 2016. Chicago O’Hare (81%) and Washington Dulles (74%) achieved the highest seat occupancy rates with the airline’s Californian routes disappointing most. Only 62% of seats were filled on the San Francisco route with Los Angeles being only slightly better at 63%. No route achieved a 90% load factor in any month, while San Francisco’s load factor in February was a less than stellar 44%.
While the passenger figures are from the US government, the capacity data is based on what the individual airlines provide to OAG. If the aircraft type used is different from what was planned (for whatever reason) or the seating configuration of individual aircraft types differs from the data provided to OAG, then our estimated load factors may differ from what the airline registers. If any of the three carriers would like to provide us with their actual flown load factor figures we would, of course, be delighted to share these with our readers.
***STOP PRESS*** Etihad Airways have sent us their actual load factor figures by route for the period January to September 2016. They are: DFW (88%), IAD (85%), JFK (79%), LAX (82%), ORD (87%) and SFO (77%). Overall total – 82%. This is 12 percentage points higher than our estimate. Further investigation has revealed the problem to be that up until December 2016 OAG data showed that the airline’s 777-200LRs had 301 seats (rather than 239), its 777-300ERs had 406 seats (rather than 349) and its 787-9s had 270 seats (rather than 235). Sending correct data to OAG is the responsibility of the airline. Overstating the number of seats flown will clearly result in an underestimate of the flown load factor.