France-Spain capacity up by more than one-quarter in past four years; large hubs are top airports, Vueling is leading airline

There were 14.33 million seats available between France and Spain in 2017, a 5.2% increase from the previous year. From 2008 to 2017 the capacity available in this country pair increased by 24%. A number of new routes were opened between the European neighbours last year including a weekly HOP! service from Montpellier to Ibiza in July, which was marked by the baking of this celebratory launch cake.

The France-Spain market enjoyed its fourth consecutive year of capacity growth in 2017, with seat numbers up 5.2% to 14.33 million. Compared with five other European country pairs has analysed recently, the France-Spain segment offers less capacity than the Germany-Spain, UK-Germany and Italy-Spain markets, which supported 32 million, 19.36 million and 15.92 million seats respectively last year. Interestingly however, it tops a mini-league of European country pairs with land borders, offering more capacity than the France-Italy (13.07 million seats) and France-Germany (10.55 million seats) markets in 2017. It is unsurprising that the three markets with land borders offer fewer seats, since travellers in those markets will have more and potentially cheaper road and rail transport options to choose from than those in the Germany-Spain and UK-Germany segments. 

Four years of back-to-back growth

Capacity on services between France and Spain grew from 11.60 million seats in 2008 to 14.33 in 2017, an increase of 24%. This exceeds the growth rates experienced in the UK-Germany, France-Italy and France-Germany markets, but is inferior to the 28% and 30% increases witnessed in the Germany-Spain and Italy-Spain markets over the same period. Since 2008 there have been two occasions in which capacity between France and Spain experienced year-on-year declines. The first occurred at the height of the global financial crisis in 2009 with seat numbers dropping by nearly 15% compared to 2008. The recovery took a number of years, with available capacity finally returning to and then exceeding 2008 levels during 2012. In 2013 there was another dip in seat numbers with capacity cut by 3.5%, but since then the market has enjoyed four years of consecutive growth. From 2013 to 2017 two-way seat availability increased by 27%. Average annual growth in the four-year period 2014-2017 was 6.1%

Source: OAG Schedules Analyser – direct flights only.

The average capacity on flights between France and Spain has grown by 31% over the past 10 years, increasing from 127 seats in 2008 to 167 in 2017. This can be partly explained by an increase in the capacity available on narrow-body aircraft and a decrease in the seats flown on regional types. In 2008 narrow-body and regional aircraft provided 82% and 17.9% of the capacity available between France and Spain respectively. By 2017 narrow-body types were operating 91.4% of seats in the market while regional operations accounted for just 8.4%. Wide-body aircraft accounted for less than 1.0% of seats in 2017.

Big boys boss airport standings

The top 12 airports in this market, based on departing seats in 2017, include six from each country. This analysis considers there to be four main hubs in the France-Spain country pair: Paris CDG and Paris Orly in France and Barcelona and Madrid in Spain. These four hubs clearly stand out from the crowd in this market, taking the top four spots in the table. Between them, they accounted for 62% of the departing seats between France and Spain in 2017. The four largest routes in the market link the four main hubs. In descending 2017 capacity order they were: CDG-Barcelona; Barcelona-Orly; Orly-Madrid; and CDG-Madrid. OAG schedules show that three airlines will operate 73 combined weekly frequencies from CDG to Barcelona during the week commencing 13 March.

Source: OAG Schedules Analyser – direct flights only.

Barcelona was the single largest departure point in 2017 just beating CDG to the top spot. The non-hub with the most capacity was Malaga. Nine of the top-ranked airports witnessed an increase in capacity in this market in 2017. The largest percentage increases were seen at Toulouse (34%) and Nantes (30%). A large proportion of the growth at Toulouse was due to Ryanair operating its Madrid service year-round, having only introduced the link in late 2016, plus the addition of a connection to Seville by the Irish ULCC.’s New Routes Database shows that Nantes welcomed six new services to Spain in 2017, with three each from SmartWings and Volotea. The latter’s new routes included a link to Madrid. Three of the top 12 airports saw a drop in seat numbers in the France-Spain market in 2017. The largest reduction came at Seville which lost 12% of its capacity when compared to 2016.

Non-hubs on the rise

The four big hubs have historically provided the most capacity in this market, but other airports have been closing the gap in recent years. In 2008 the four hubs accounted for 72% of departing seats between France and Spain. By 2017 this representation had fallen to 62% of the available seats. From 2008 to 2017 capacity from the four hubs grew from 8.34 million seats to 8.91 million, an increase of 6.9%. Over the same period the seats available from non-hub facilities increased from 3.26 million to 5.42 million, a growth rate of 66%. This could suggest growing demand for point-to-point connections.

Source: OAG Schedules Analyser – direct flights only. Hubs = CDG, ORY, BCN and MAD.

Spanish carriers flying high

Eleven airlines operated regular services between France and Spain in 2017. The two largest carriers in this market, and four of the top 11, are Spanish-based operators. Vueling offered the most capacity with 30% of departing seats. When Iberia, Air Europa and Volotea are also included, the four Spanish airlines contributed more than half of the seats available between France and Spain last year. Only two of the top-ranked airlines were French. A further five were foreign carriers operating services under seventh freedom rights. The largest of these were easyJet and Ryanair. In total, five of the airlines serving this market can be classified as LCCs.

Source: OAG Schedules Analyser – direct flights only.

Most of the 11 airlines serving the market increased capacity between France and Spain in 2017. The largest percentage increase came at Germania, although this was from a very small base and the carrier only offered 34,000 two-way seats in the market last year. Volotea enjoyed the next largest increase, introducing seven new routes in 2017, including links to Alicante from both Toulouse and Marseille. This helped boost its capacity in the market by 57%. Only two carriers (highlighted in red) cut capacity between France and Spain last year. The largest reduction took place at Air Europa with seat numbers reduced by 12%.

According to’s New Routes Database, a further 21 new services are scheduled to launch in the France-Spain market in 2018. Only three of these will include a link to one of the four hubs, indicating that the trend for an increasing amount of seats to be flown on point-to-point non-hub sectors is set to continue.

There are four main hubs in the France-Spain market: Paris CDG and Paris Orly in France and Barcelona and Madrid in Spain. These hubs accounted for 72% of departing seats between the two countries in 2008 although this had fallen to 62% of available seats last year. The route map for 2017 shows airport pairs with hub links (highlighted in black) and those connecting two non-hubs (highlighted in red). The latter category is growing at a faster rate and this trend looks set to continue in 2018, with only three of the 21 planned new routes scheduled to serve one of the four hubs.


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