European winter capacity down by 2.3%; UK and Spain struggling, Turkey booming

Image: European capacity down

Analysis of airline schedule data provided to OAG for the beginning of the current winter season indicates that seat capacity at Europe’s over 600 airports is down around 2.3%. Given that load factors of AEA member airlines has been dropped two percentage points in recent months, this makes it likely that passenger demand will be down around 5% across Europe’s airports.

Euro top five report cuts; Rome, Istanbul buck trend

A more detailed look at Europe’s busiest airports shows that of the top 15 (measured by scheduled seat capacity this winter) only four are reporting year-on-year growth. Spain’s two biggest airports are both showing significant capacity cuts as a result of various factors including the new high-speed rail link between the two cities, a major economic downturn in Spain and significant capacity reductions in soon-to-be-merged local LCCs clickair and Vueling, as well as struggling Spanair.

Chart: Top 15 European Airports
Source: OAG Max Online for w/c 3 November 2008 and w/c 29 October 2007

The 20% reduction in Gatwick’s capacity is misleading as last year’s figures included capacity provided by First Choice (around 7% of Gatwick’s scheduled total). This winter the airline, which has now merged with Thomsonfly, no longer categorises its flights as scheduled. Several transatlantic carriers moved their operations to Heathrow as soon as they were allowed to (at the end of March 2008). And while British Airways has shrunk capacity by 33%, easyJet has used slots gained from the acquisition of former BA franchise partner GB Airways to raise its Gatwick capacity by almost 21%. However, latest traffic data for Gatwick confirms that passenger numbers were down almost 7% in September.

Rome and Istanbul are seeing capacity growth for different reasons. Rome is benefiting from Alitalia’s decision to ‘de-hub’ Milan Malpensa and focus its network on Rome. Istanbul on the other hand is benefiting from Turkish Airlines’ rapid and profitable growth.

UK, Spain suffer most; Turkey’s looking good for Christmas

Analysis by country reveals that among the major markets the UK and Spain are suffering most. Germany is only slightly down, as is Italy thanks to opportunities being filled by a contracting Alitalia, while France is actually up 4.4%. Denmark’s significant reduction captures the demise of Sterling and the problems affecting SAS. However, Norwegian, Transavia, easyJet and Cimber Air have already announced new routes and capacity at Copenhagen in the coming months so Denmark’s situation will be considerably better by early 2009.

Chart: Top 5 EU Countries
Source: OAG Max Online for w/c 3 November 2008 and w/c 29 October 2007

Thanks to Istanbul and Turkish Airlines, Turkey is showing sustained growth across the winter season. No other top 20 country market is growing as fast. Ukraine and Latvia may be growing faster but from much smaller base markets.

Three of Europe’s previously booming new member states appear to be struggling this winter. Scheduled capacity is down in Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic. However, more recent member Romania is still reporting 10% capacity growth.

Image: Transavia
Transavia along with Norwegian, Cimber and easyJet are filling the void left by Sterling’s bankruptcy and will give Copenhagen a better year in 2009. Meanwhile Europe’s three biggest airlines (by seat capacity) – Air France/KLM, Lufthansa and Ryanair – are all reporting growth this winter.

Europe’s big three airlines still growing

Europe’s three biggest airlines by European seat capacity (Lufthansa, Ryanair and Air France) are all reporting growth going into this winter. While it comes as no surprise to see Alitalia, British Airways and Iberia reporting double-digit capacity reductions, easyJet is also apparently cutting winter capacity by just over 1%. In Spain several airlines are cutting capacity by more than 10% including Air Europa, Spanair, clickair and Vueling.

Chart: Top 40 EU Airlines
Source: OAG Max Online for w/c 3 November 2008 and w/c 29 October 2007

Capacity growth of over 15% is only being reported by six of the top 40 airlines; Turkish (+15.7%), Norwegian (+36.5%, helped by its acquisition of Flynordic), Air One (+17.8%), Aegean Airlines (+23.4%), airBaltic (+25.2%) and Turkish airline SunExpress (+63%).

Image: SunExpress
Turkey’s SunExpress grew a whopping 63% – and doesn’t it look a lot like its Turkish Airlines and Lufthansa parents? (both of whom also continue to grow).

It is interesting to note that local, privately-owned rivals to Alitalia and Olympic are among the fastest-growing airlines in Europe. Unlike Air One, Aegean is sensibly steering well clear of wanting any involvement in the future of its national airline.

It is also worth noting that according to OAG a total of 622 airports have scheduled services this winter (across their definition of Europe) compared to 618 a year earlier. New airports that have opened in the last year include Norway’s Oslo Rygge airport and Spain’s Ciudad Real Airport near Madrid.


  1. Marjory says:

    Turkish airlines are doing well.
    Easy Jet is into Istanbul and Dalaman. These are the only 2 airports where low cost direct travel can be found between Turkey and central Europe……they are working well…..when will more direct flights and hopefully budget airlines be introduced to other areas of Turkey? Sun Express used to fly Izmir – London but stopped in 2008… idea why when most direct flights are booked out and hundreds of Brits are moving to Turkey each year… come on Turkish airlines, give other airports a try and you could boom some more……There are more than 10,000 British homeowners in the little town of Didim alone, then there@s Kusadasi – both between Izmir and Bodrum and both suffering from lack of flights and cost of flights direct to and from the UK.

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