Ryanair delivers on 20% cutback threat at Stansted

Image: Ryanair cutback

London Stansted may still be Europe’s busiest airport for low-cost airlines but at least two major LCCs have recently reduced flights from what is also London’s third busiest airport. First Air Berlin axed its hub operation by ditching its UK domestic flights to Belfast, Glasgow and Manchester, and now Ryanair has delivered on its threat to reduce capacity at the airport this winter by around 20%. This is supposedly in protest at recent developments in airport charges though the extreme seasonality of some of their chosen destinations will also have contributed to the decision.

Movements: lowest for 5 years

An analysis of the number of routes and daily departures offered by Ryanair at Stansted over the last five years shows that aircraft movements will be at their lowest levels since the winter of 2002 although the number of routes served is only one less than last winter at 90.

Chart: Ryanair at London Stanstead 2002 - 2007
Source: Ryanair timetable data from website

Winter 2007 movements will be at their lowest since the winter 2002, although the number of routes served is only one less than last winter at 90. Compared to levels during the summer, daily departures are down around 22%, though the number of destinations served is reduced by just eight from 98 to 90. Routes that have disappeared either temporarily or permanently since the start of the summer season are:

  • Almeria, Blackpool (actually ended in June), Esbjerg, Genoa, Malmo, Poitiers, Pula, Rodez, Vitoria and Zadar.

Despite the loss of 10 routes Ryanair has also added two new routes for the winter season. These are:

  • Belfast City (four times daily) and Billund (daily)

Many other routes have seen significant frequency reductions compared to both this summer and last winter. These include services to as Aarhus, Dinard, Graz, Hamburg Lübeck, Oslo Torp, Toulon and Valladolid. An analysis of load factors on some of these for last winter indicates why they may have incurred frequency reductions.

Chart: Load Factors of selected Ryanair routes from London Stanstead during Winter 06/07
Source: UK CAA data

Most of these routes failed to average 70% load factors during the five month winter season, with Toulon averaging just 55%. Hamburg, Oslo and Rodez were all below 65% suggesting that a cut in capacity would help profitability during the harsh winter months. Dublin, which was served 14 times per day three winters ago is this winter served on average eight times per day, though frequencies vary from 10 per day on peak days to just six flights per day on off-peak days. Similarly Glasgow Prestwick which was once served with up to 10 daily flights is now served with just four daily flights each day.

But: Ryanair rivals BA at LHR for routes

Ryanair is still the dominant airline at Stansted serving nearly four times as many destinations as its nearest rival easyJet with nearly three times as many flights. And a comparison of airlines at London’s major airports shows that Ryanair offers nearly as many destinations this winter from Stansted (90) as British Airways does from London Heathrow (97).

Chart: Biggest carriers at London airports
Source: OAG Max Online for w/c 05 Nov 07

bmi’s significant presence at Heathrow has been greatly enhanced by the recent acquisition of BMED (a former BA franchise carrier) which instantly almost doubled the number of destinations available to bmi customers at the airport, and further eroded BA’s network (though BA will codeshare with bmi for the moment on these routes).

Concentration v spread

Ryanair’s strategy for London is to operate some 85% of its flights from one airport, Stansted. Although it operates 11 routes from London Luton and three from London Gatwick (all to Ireland) the only different destinations are its Luton flights to Malta and Marrakech bringing the number of destinations served from London to 92 in total.

easyJet splits its operations far more evenly across three London airports with Gatwick the largest (34 routes), followed by Luton (29) and Stansted (24). Despite offering a total of 87 routes across the three airports, due to duplication only 55 different destinations are served. Several key destinations are served from all three London airports: Alicante, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Belfast, Edinburgh, Faro, Glasgow, Malaga, Nice and Palma.

When easyJet takes over the flights of BA franchise carrier GB Airways at Gatwick next spring the difference between BA at Gatwick (currently 64 routes) and easyJet will be greatly reduced. This will also narrow the gap between Ryanair and easyJet in terms of destinations but it seems likely that by then Ryanair will have passed the 100 mark.

Increasing competition at Stansted

With Ryanair’s focus on secondary airports and easyJet’s preference for major airports the two airlines have tended to avoid direct competition at Stansted. When they did compete head-to-head to Rome Ciampino, easyJet chose to move the routes to London Gatwick to avoid unnecessary hardship. Currently the only direct competition is on routes to Spain, where both airlines serve Alicante, Palma and Valencia. On other destinations such as Belfast, Barcelona and Glasgow the two rivals compete indirectly by serving different airports.

Alicante, Belfast and Palma services were only started by Ryanair earlier this year thus increasing pressure on easyJet’s yields at Stansted. Little wonder then that Stansted is the third of easyJet’s three London airports in terms of size and network coverage.


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