Ryanair drives down average frequency of low-cost routes

As Europe’s LCCs continues to enjoy higher than average growth rates it has become necessary to start ever more new routes. As they still prefer to avoid head-to-head competition with legacy carriers Europe’s LCCs are seeking out and experimenting with ever more unlikely routes, many of which are being started at low frequency.

Image: Ryanair belfast base
Ryanair has started an astonishing 187 new routes since late September with an average frequency of 3.78 flights per week. Only 27 of these routes – such as Belfast City-London Stansted (four daily) have begun with at least daily flights.

Ryanair: 187 new routes – only 27 served daily

In just over six months, (since 25 September to be precise) Ryanair has started an astonishing 187 new routes. The average frequency of these routes when launched was just 3.78 flights per week. Only 27 of these routes have been launched with at least daily service and only two (the short-lived Dublin to Shannon service and the four times daily Belfast City to London Stansted route) began with at least two daily flights.

Ryanair is due to start at least 50 routes between now and the beginning of October. The average frequency on these routes is only slightly higher at 3.90, thanks primarily to the start of the Barcelona Reus base which sees the introduction of four Spanish domestic routes all of which are served at least daily. In contrast the launch of based flights from Birmingham in June will see just two aircraft operating a total of 17 new routes with an average frequency of just 2.65 flights per week.

As a result Ryanair’s average frequency across its entire route network is in decline. Whereas just two years ago its average frequency on a route was 8.7 this summer that figure has fallen to just 6.3.

Chart: European LCCs
Source: OAG Max Online for April 2006, 2007, 2008
Image: Wizz air planes
With a further 75 A320s on Wizz Air needs to find a further 400 routes at existing frequency levels, although it believes that frequency is not as critical as low fares.

An analysis of average frequency of other European LCCs over the last three summers reveals some interesting trends. While most airlines saw average frequencies fall (or at least remain very similar) when comparing this summer with last summer, there are two notable exceptions.

Air Berlin’s average frequency increased significantly once all the high-frequency domestic routes previously operated by dba were included under Air Berlin’s code. SkyEurope has increased its average route frequency as a result of its strategic decision to pull out of several low-volume Central European bases and take on Austrian at Vienna.

Flybe and easyJet most “business” like

Image: Flybe at Belfast city airport

Flybe’s increase in average frequency in 2007 reflected its acquisition of BA Connect which tended to operate mostly business routes often with two or more daily frequencies. easyJet and Vueling, which both prefer to operate from major airports and aspire to serve the business market, both saw average frequencies fall from between 11 and 12 in 2007 to between nine and 10 just a year later. By serving airports with larger catchment areas these airline are more likely to be able to generate enough demand to satisfy the needs of a daily operation.

Wizz Air’s all-leisure approach

Wizz Air resembles Ryanair with its preference for cheaper, secondary airports and its network average has remained below five flights per week for the second year running. By focussing on the UK to Poland VFR traffic it believes that frequency is not as critical as low fares and that VFR traffic is more flexible when it comes to travel arrangements.

The only other airlines averaging below Ryanair’s 6.3 frequencies per route are Transavia and Sterling. Transavia’s network includes many low-frequency charter-like routes to Northern Africa and the Mediterranean, which are available for limited seat-only purchase and therefore are recorded as scheduled flights.
Sterling which operates from several bases in Scandinavia also has a mix of a few high-frequency (three or more flights per day) intra-Scandinavian routes complemented by a wide-range of low-frequency (often just weekly) service to Southern Europe.

More unusual routes to come?

With most of Europe’s LCCs having placed orders to significantly grow their fleets the question is how will they find sufficient routes to keep the aircraft busy? Wizz Air, for example, currently flies around 16 A320s and operates around 90 routes. With a further 75 A320s on order this would suggest that the airline needs to find a further 400 routes at existing frequency levels.


  1. Vanni Gibertini says:

    I would love to understand why people continue to consider AirBerlin a LCC: they are not! The only thing they have in common with the LCC business model is the one-class cabin, but everything else could not be different: they fly from major airports, have a mixed-type fleet, run a hub-and-spoke network, provide frills, sell through GDSs, use paper tickets (until they last), pay commissions, have a frequent flyer program.
    I really don’t know what else you have to do not to be considered a LCC.

  2. brenneisen says:

    The “market” cannot resolve everything. Europe needs LCCs but a coordinated system is necessay between LCCs and TGVs in order to develop harmoniously the single market and avoid waste of resources and protect the environment.

  3. Cornel says:

    It is true Air Berlin should not be considered a LCC and the main reason is the price. Low cost search engines, such momondo.com, skyscanner.net, hotfly.ro shall take that into account.

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