AirTran helping Atlanta cope with Delta’s downsizing

Image: AirTran LLC Base
AirTran has the world’s largest LCC base at Atlanta but has gradually been diversifying its network. In 2000 over 95% of its passengers passed through Atlanta. In 2006 this was down to under 75%.

It seems appropriate that the world’s busiest airport should also be home to the world’s busiest single base for a low-cost airline. Despite AirTran being only a quarter of the size of Southwest, its base at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) is bigger than any of Southwest’s with nearly 250 daily departures. To achieve this AirTran has doubled its passenger numbers through Atlanta from 7.3 million in 2000 to 14.7 million in 2006. This means that AirTran now accounts for over 17% of Atlanta traffic.

Chart: Atlanta airport traffic 2000-2006
Source: Atlanta Airport

During the same period Atlanta’s traffic has grown by under 6% and even fell in 2006 as a result of Delta’s 10% reduction in passenger numbers.

AirTran growing at close to 20%

In 2006 AirTran’s traffic at Atlanta grew by 18% to just under 14.7 million and after a quiet start to 2007 growth has been over 20% in each of the last six months.

Chart: AirTran at Atlanta seasonality
Source: Atlanta Airport

The seasonality profile has been consistent in each of the last three years with the dip in September explained by the high proportion of capacity assigned on routes to Florida. September is normally peak season for hurricanes in Florida which tends to make leisure travellers slightly more wary of visiting the region.

Despite this rapid growth at Atlanta the proportion of AirTran passengers flying on routes not involving Atlanta has risen quickly from less than 5% in 2000 to over 25% in 2006.

High frequency connections

This winter AirTran is operating to 52 destinations from Atlanta. The top 10 are shown in the table below.

Destinations AirTran weekly frequency Delta weekly frequency Others weekly frequency
Orlando (MCO) 91 98 12 (Spirit)
New York (LGA) 84 109 26 (American)
Fort Lauderdale (FLL) 71 83 12 (Spirit)
Tampa (TPA) 63 75
Chicago Midway (MDW) 56 61
Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) 49 61 72 (American)
Philadelphia (PHL) 49 68 36 (US Airways)
Baltimore/Washington (BWI) 48 62
Washington National (DCA) 43 106 20 (US Airways)
Boston (BOS) 42 74
Source: OAG Max Online for w/c 10 December 2007

Three of the top four routes are to Florida. On all of the top 10 routes the airline faces direct competition from Delta who operates similar or higher frequencies. On six of the 10 routes there is further competition from either American, or Spirit or US Airways.

Frequencies on 50 of the 52 are at least double-daily the exceptions being San Diego (nine flights per week) and Daytona Beach (eight flights per week). The average frequency across all 52 routes is 33 flights per week. Compare this with, for example, Ryanair’s London Stansted base where the average frequency across 89 routes is just 10 flights per week.

Consistently (just) profitable

Map: AirTran routesAirTran has consistently reported net profits in the last five years though margins have been very low except in 2003 when a number of exceptional items resulted in a 10% margin. According to the airline AirTran’s non-fuel unit costs of 6 cents per ASM for the first half of 2007 are the lowest in the US, even better than Southwest, when adjusted for average sector length. AirTran’s average stage length in 2006 was 652 miles (1050 kilometres) and the average fare was $90.58 (£45/€67) similar to easyJet in Europe.The airline’s current fleet of 87 717s and 50 737NGs will expand by 63 737s during the next five years to take the airline to 200 aircraft. However, ASM growth which has been averaging around 20% in the last few years will slow to around 10% from 2008 onwards. Assigned seating is provided and every flight also offers a limited business class.

Elton and the jets

Image: Elton John helps promote AirTranTo help promote the installation of live XM Satellite Radio on all its flights in 2005 AirTran operated some 717s adorned with images of iconic rock star Sir Elton John. AirTran also received some high-profile publicity when they were minor sponsors of the 2005 Indianapolis 500 race winner, Dan Wheldon. Clearly the airline likes to be associated with Brits!


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