easyJet and Ryanair battle for supremacy in UK short-haul market

Image: easyJet and Ryanair battle for supremacy in UK short-haul market

Within Europe the United Kingdom generates more air traffic than any other country with its commercial airports handling almost 240 million passengers in 2008. Europe’s two biggest low-cost carriers, easyJet (at London Luton) and Ryanair (at London Stansted), both evolved from strong bases in the UK, helped by the fact that London was blessed during the 1990s with spare airport capacity at two secondary airports that British Airways and other flag carriers regularly ignored in favour of a presence at Heathrow and/or Gatwick.

Image: easyJet Gatwick
With the recent arrival of daily easyJet services from London’s Gatwick, Munich now serves four of the five main London airports – including new services from Aer Lingus from Gatwick! Meanwhile, from May 1st Ryanair will increase competition with flights from Stansted to Memmingen, which it has dubbed “West Munich”.

From these modest and inauspicious beginning easyJet and Ryanair have now developed major networks from many UK airports (but not Heathrow) and have become the dominant carriers on short-haul routes to and from the UK. Analysis of summer 2009 schedules reveals that the two airlines offer similar capacity on routes from UK airports to EU destinations (plus Norway and Switzerland), leaving British Airways trailing in third place.

Chart: UK to EU27 - Top 15 airlines by weekly departing seat capacity
* EU27 plus Norway and Switzerland. Also includes domestic UK routes.
Source: OAG Max Online for w/c 30 March 2009

The remaining 12 airlines in the top 15 are a mix of flag-carriers (Air France, Lufthansa, KLM, SAS, Swiss), pure LCCs (Aer Lingus, bmibaby, jet2.com and Wizz Air) and other carriers (bmi, Flybe and Monarch) whose classification is open to debate.

LCCs offer 60% more seats than legacy carriers to Europe

Analysis of the market share by airline type on specific EU country markets from the UK reveals that traditional legacy or flag-carrier airlines have just 33% of the scheduled market on international routes to the other 14 EU countries that were members before 2004. LCCs have 53% of the market while other types of airline have 14% of the market.

Chart: UK to post-2003 EU members, Scheduled capacity share by airline type
Source: OAG Max Online for w/c 30 March 2009

Market shares vary considerably by country with Luxembourg having no LCC services and Ireland having virtually no legacy carrier services. Apart from Luxembourg, LCCs have made least impact on routes from the UK to Belgium (just 6.3%) and Finland (16.7%). The high proportion of “Others” on the UK to Belgium and on the UK domestic market can be attributed to the allocation of bmi, Flybe and VLM into this category.

A similar analysis of scheduled capacity by airline type on routes to newer EU member states (plus Norway and Switzerland), reveals that flag carriers have around 38% of the market, LCCs 58% and Others just 4%.

Chart: UK to pre-2004 EU members, Scheduled capacity share by airline type
* Norway and Swizerland are not EU members but do have deregulated aviation markets.
Source: OAG Max Online for w/c 30 March 2009

The recent demise of flyLAL means that the UK-Lithuania market is now dominated by LCCs (Ryanair’s three routes to Kaunas from Birmingham, London Luton and London Stansted to be precise), while Slovakia’s de facto “flag-carrier” is SkyEurope, an LCC. The largest market among the new member states is Poland where LCCs have an impressive 89% of the market. LOT and British Airways both operate from Heathrow to Warsaw while British Airways also serves Krakow from Gatwick but LCCs offer an additional 54 routes.

LCCs now the only option to many destinations

As anyone based in the UK who wanted to attend the recent ACI EUROPE SMAG Conference and Exhibition in Linz will have discovered, the only non-stop service from the UK was with Ryanair from London Stansted. Linz is just one of many European destinations that can only be reached non-stop from the UK by a low-cost carrier from a single airport. Other such destinations include Aalborg, Aarhus, Alghero, Bourgas, Brno, Cluj-Napoca, Dortmund, Friedrichshafen, Graz, Haugesund and Klagenfurt.

Other destinations are served only by LCCs from more than one airport (and sometimes by more than one airline). These include Bilbao, Carcassonne, Gdansk, Granada, Katowice, and Kaunas.

With passenger traffic at UK airports down 8% in January and almost 15% in February (not helped by airport closures due to snow) it will be interesting to see what impact the current economic situation has on route development in the future. But in the “common market” of the EU national trends, tastes and market forces still differ widely: If the above analysis were applied to other major European countries (such as France or Germany) the results would vary considerably.

Image: Bernard Berger’s leaving card
Exclusive – Bernard Berger’s actual staff leaving card. As Ryanair’s director of new route development heads to his new hot desk at Delhi and Hyderabad airports, our Dublin correspondent reports it had initially been “much quieter without him although he has been on the phone to us regularly since he left.” In his leaving note to his colleagues “Benny” reflected on the past 20 years: “During this time, I have had the privilege of being part of the largest ever expansion of new routes in Europe and indeed into North Africa, an expansion which has made Ryanair the largest scheduled carrier within Europe and has changed the lives, fortunes and indeed relationships of people all over Europe.”


  1. Bob Gedat says:

    Superb analysis, very informative for aviation networkers

  2. Excellent insight and analysis – a key resource for planners and executives

  3. Fantastic analysis on the developments, really informative and very much agree with paul and bob thank you

  4. Eka says:

    Great analysis, any update on how the market is one year later? It will be highly appreciate it.


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