Evolution of a hub; the curious case of Copenhagen Airport

Copenhagen’s management team has been kept busier than usual during the last few months ever since Sterling Airways, the airport’s second biggest customer collapsed at the end of October. SAS the dominant home carrier is also struggling financially and its longer-term future and strategy remain unclear, although it has managed to launch new routes to places in Spain left vacant by Sterling’s demise.

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Here’s a happy tale: A detailed anna.aero analysis for this summer reveals that the 203 weekly departures that Sterling had to 37 destinations have been replaced by 238 departures operated by new carriers on these same routes.

Indeed the disappearance of Sterling certainly encouraged a number of other airlines to see the chance for new route opportunities. Norwegian and Transavia.com saw enough potential to decide to base aircraft at the airport while easyJet took the opportunity to double its route network at the airport from two to four. Finally, some of Sterling’s assets (aircraft and staff) were acquired by local regional carrier Cimber Air which has now rebranded as Cimber Sterling.

Chart: Top 10 airlines at CPH in summer 2009 (Weekly one-way seat capacity)
Source: OAG Max Online for w/c 7 July 2008 and w/c 6 July 2009.

Instead of having one significant rival (Sterling) SAS is now looking over its shoulder at both Cimber Sterling and Norwegian while also keeping an eye on Transavia.com. Recent discussions between the airport and Ryanair suggest that the possibility of 10 new routes from the Irish low-cost giant should not be ruled out, especially as the airport now has the CPH Swift terminal specifically designed with LCCs in mind (anna.aero hinted in our 2009 predictions that Ryanair was looking at operating at some new major airports this year).

Image: CPH SWIFT terminal
Ryanair hinted to anna.aero recently that it would be looking at arriving at some big European airports this year and it now seems it meant Copenhagen might be one of these. It would no doubt use the no-frills CPH SWIFT terminal which is set to offer “passenger charges at half the price” when it opens in summer 2010.
Image: Cimber Sterling restarted Sterling’s Malaga and Nice routes
Wait a minute! Is that Champagne…or cava maybe? Cimber Sterling restarted Sterling’s Malaga and Nice routes this week. Malaga is already served by Norwegian, Spanair and Transavia while Nice is served by Norwegian, SAS and Transavia.

SAS cuts capacity by 12%; dumps Prague and Vienna

This July SAS will be providing 12% less capacity at Copenhagen than last year. Since then it has dropped four routes (Cologne/Bonn, Prague, Tampere and Vienna). On Prague services it had been competing against Cimber, Czech Airlines, SkyEurope and Sterling, while on Vienna there was competition from Austrian and SkyEurope. Cologne/Bonn and Tampere were both uncontested markets for SAS.

Although the new Spanish routes for SAS this summer – Alicante, Barcelona and Malaga – have resulted in a net reduction of just one from 60 to 59 destinations. However, capacity has been cut back on most of SAS’ top routes including Gothenburg (down 36%), Frankfurt (down 31%), London Heathrow (down 26%) and Oslo (down 23%). Only Aalborg (plus 2%) among SAS’ top 10 routes has seen a capacity increase.

Flights up 17% on Sterling’s old routes

Last July Sterling was operating to 37 destinations from Copenhagen: one domestic route to Aalborg and 36 international routes to 16 countries. A detailed analysis of scheduled flights for this summer reveals that the 203 weekly departures operated across those 37 routes have been replaced by 238 new weekly departures operated by new carriers on these routes.

Download: Free spreadsheet - What happened to Sterling’s CPH routes?

Image: Copenhagen CEO Brian Petersen and transavia.com EVP & CCO Willem Hondius
Copenhagen CEO Brian Petersen and transavia.com EVP & CCO Willem Hondius at the start of the base in December – transavia has added 45 weekly departures Sterling’s old network and even started a new route to Pisa. Photo: Arne V. Pedersen.

Of the 37 routes only 12 have not been picked up by other carriers and some of these (such as Bergen, Berlin Tegel and Brussels) continue to be served by existing carriers such as SAS. The routes that have seen the biggest increase in frequency (and competition) are Alicante, Barcelona, London Gatwick, Malaga, Nice and Palma – all good solid ‘low-cost’ destinations with a proven demand, especially during summer.

Norwegian has added the most flights on former Sterling routes (104 weekly departures), followed by Cimber Sterling (56) and Transavia (45). Some of the routes operated this summer by Norwegian (Heraklion and Pisa) and Transavia (Pisa) were not even operated by Sterling last summer.


  1. Gordon Mills says:

    The Copenhagen growth IS interesting. But the present situation is not yet an equilibrium. Once the other airlines have tried all thier new routes, there may well be some withdrawals – after which the total new service may not exceed that offered by Sterling. It will be interesting to watch.

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