Flybe steps up competition against bmibaby at Cardiff Airport

Logo:, Visit WalesIn 2006 Abertis-owned Cardiff International Airport (CWL) passed two million passengers for the first time and last year traffic grew a further 4.3% resulting in the airport ranking 19th among UK airports. This summer traffic has been boosted by the decision of Flybe to start further domestic services to Edinburgh, Glasgow and Newcastle having started serving Belfast City last summer.

Image: Bay City Rollers
Flybe celebrated the launch of four new routes from Cardiff in its 2008 summer schedule (Jersey, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Newcastle) with a performance by the Bay City Rollers, who sang ‘Bye Bye Baby’.

bmibaby: Cardiff’s first LCC

When bmibaby chose Cardiff as its second base (after East Midlands) in October 2002, around two-thirds of CWL’s annual traffic was served by charter carriers. By the following summer bmibaby was serving 11 destinations (four domestic and seven international) and scheduled traffic more than doubled resulting in overall passenger growth of 34%.

However, it soon became clear that the airport’s catchment area (and tourism appeal) had trouble sustaining so many routes operated by bmibaby’s 737s. Routes to Milan Bergamo, Munich and Toulouse were dropped and the airline came to an agreement with local ATR operator Air Wales to provide the capacity for some of its domestic routes, plus Cork and Paris. Thereafter traffic fell in both 2004 and 2005.

Chart: Cardiff airport traffic 1997-2007
Source: UK CAA
Image: bmibaby sponsors the Cardiff Devils ice hockey team
bmibaby sponsors the Cardiff Devils ice hockey team and holds various fun family events throughout the year, including the recent ‘ice your wife’.

Significant charter presence results in significant seasonality

Charter traffic still comprises almost half of all annual traffic but it occurs primarily during the peak summer season when the Welsh (like most other people) want to go on holiday. The airport’s seasonality profile is extremely stable though last January the airport received an unexpected boost when flights to nearby Bristol were diverted to CWL due to drainage issues on the runway.

Chart: Cardiff airport seasonality
Source: UK CAA

In the first two months of 2008 traffic was above 2006 levels but below last year’s figures. However, the recent launch of two new routes to Poland with bmibaby and Flybe’s new domestic routes seems likely to generate considerable extra traffic during the summer.

Flybe aiming to be #1 in Wales?

Flybe only started serving Cardiff last May when the airline closed down the Bristol base it had inherited when it acquired BA Connect and decided to try its luck from nearby Cardiff instead. Although it currently offers considerably less capacity than bmibaby it is not far behind in terms of total flights as it operates smaller aircraft.

Airline Frequency Share Capacity Share Routes
bmibaby 30.4% 46.8% 12
Flybe 26.3% 18.3% 6
Thomsonfly 6.7% 12.4% 5
KLM 11.6% 11.3% 1
Aer Arann 10.3% 5.6% 2
All others 14.7% 5.6% 6
Source: OAG Max Online for w/c 14 April 2008

As a result of Flybe’s decision to take on bmibaby on Scottish routes there are now five daily flights to Edinburgh and three to Glasgow.

Plenty of head-to-head competition

There is a surprising amount of direct competition for an airport of this size. Flybe is going head-to-head with bmibaby on its Edinburgh, Glasgow and Jersey routes, while both airlines also serve Belfast though using different airports. Flybe also competes with Eastern on its new Newcastle route.

Meanwhile, bmibaby faces further competition from Thomsonfly on its ‘beach’ routes to Alicante, Malaga and Faro and from KLM on its Amsterdam route. At least it has a monopoly on its two new Polish routes to Gdansk and Warsaw. It will also be the only airline operating to Barcelona when it starts flights in May after Thomsonfly decided to abandon the route.

Neither easyJet nor Ryanair serve Cardiff as they both have major bases at Bristol on the other side of the Severn estuary. Ryanair did serve Cardiff from Dublin until 1 May 2006 when the airline moved the capacity to Bristol leaving the way clear for Aer Arann to take over the route.

According to Cardiff’s published airport charges are typically around 5% lower than those at Bristol, whether comparing a 737-800 or a Q400.

Chart: Top 12 routes at CWL
Source: UK CAA

Amsterdam’s leading position reflects the fact that for passengers wanting to travel to less popular destinations which are not served directly from the airport it is much easier to fly to Amsterdam and connect through KLM’s global hub rather than drive along the M4 down to Heathrow.

Image: The Wales Millennium Centre
The Wales Millennium Centre, one of Cardiff’s iconic cultural destinations, has featured in BBC TV programmes such as Dr Who and Torchwood.

Beans means flights?

Logo: Air WalesLocally-based airlines have struggled over the years. Air Wales, which flew ATR turboprops on behalf of bmibaby, ceased operations on 23 April 2006. A new airline called Flyforbeans (no, honest!) is apparently planning to start low-cost operations this summer using 737s, though given the current market climate and existing competition at the airport the airline faces considerable challenges if it is to succeed.

A more successful new entrant appears to be Highland Airways which is operating double-daily services to Anglesey in North Wales using a Jetstream 31. The route has Public Service Obligation (PSO) status and is supported financially for three years by the Welsh government.


  1. Cardiff airport is one of the most efficient and friendly airports in the UK. The staff are outstanding. Its just a pity there is only the one runway

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