Routes Europe host Prague gains 30 new services in a year; Wizz Air challenging SkyEurope to be leading LCC

Image: Eliska Buckova
Miss Czech Republic, Eliška Bučková, checking boarding passes at Prague. SkyEurope is still the largest LCC at the airport serving 20 destinations. Wizz Air, which began operating in February, will have 11 destinations by the end of the summer while Ryanair added four at the start of the winter season.

The Czech Republic is home to Central Europe’s busiest airport at Prague Ruzyne which last year handled over 12.5m passengers. Although the country only joined the EU in May 2004, thanks to more liberal air service agreements with other countries (especially the UK), traffic was already booming thanks to low-cost carriers well before 2004.
Apart from Prague there are two other airports with notable scheduled services in the country. Both Brno and Ostrava have seen traffic growth in recent years with Brno’s traffic up 20% in 2008 to over 500,000 annual passengers. Czech Airlines connects both airports with Prague with multiple daily flights while Ryanair operates daily from London Stansted to Brno during the summer. Brno is well-known as the home of the Czech round of the Moto GP series held at the scenic Autodrom Brno.

Chart: Traffic 95-08
Source: Prague Airport, ICAO

In the first quarter of 2009 total traffic at Prague is down 17.6% though domestic traffic is down just 4.2%. The UK remains the leading country market for air travel to and from Prague (with 1.7 million passengers last year) though passenger numbers have been steadily declining since reaching a peak of over 2.3 million in 2005. The UK market was stimulated by the appeal of Prague as a cheap weekend break (especially the alcohol) which proved popular with groups looking for an alternative venue for a stag-night.

Chart: CHT PRG Country
Source: Prague Airport, ICAO

Italy has been the fastest-growing of the major markets in the last three years with passenger numbers up over 70% compared with 2005. Most of the leading country markets have delivered growth of at least 25% with the exception of the UK and Germany. However, Germany remains the second biggest country market after the UK.

LCCs very well represented at Prague

While Czech Airlines remains the dominant carrier at Prague with over 50% of scheduled seat capacity this summer, Europe’s LCCs are very well represented. Aer Lingus, bmibaby, clickair, easyJet, germanwings, jet2.com, Norwegian, Ryanair, SkyEurope, SmartWings, Wind Jet and Wizz Air will this summer account for over 25% of Prague’s scheduled seat capacity. SkyEurope is currently the largest LCC at the airport serving 20 destinations this summer. However, Wizz Air which only began operating from the airport on 19 February this year, will be operating to 11 destinations by the end of the summer while Ryanair added four new destinations at the start of the winter season.

SmartWings is the locally-based LCC which has been operating since May 2004. The airline belongs to Travel Service, a company which is currently majority-owned by the Icelandair Group. It operates a range of scheduled and charter flights with a fleet of 12 737s.

Image: Wizz Air
While Czech Airlines remains the dominant carrier at Prague with over 50% of scheduled seat capacity, Europe’s LCCs are very well represented. On May 7 Czech Airlines received another A319, primarily to operate on longer medium-haul routes, such as Almaty, Yekaterinburg, Samara, Damascus, and Tel Aviv.

Prague gains 30 new services in one year

Demonstrating just how dynamic the European air travel market still is Prague airport will have seen 30 new scheduled services start between July 2008 and July 2009. However, during the same period it has lost 29 scheduled services.

Gained BGY (Wizz Air), BHX (Ryanair), BRI (SkyEurope), BVA (Ryanair), CFU (SmartWings), CPH (Norwegian), CRL (Wizz Air), EIN (Wizz Air), EMA (Ryanair), FCO (SmartWings, Wizz Air), FRL (Wind Jet), GPA (SmartWings), HHN (Ryanair), IBZ (SmartWings), JFK (Delta), LPL (Wizz Air), LTN (Wizz Air), LUX (Luxair), MAD (Wizz Air), MMX (Wizz Air), NAP (SmartWings, Wizz Air), NYO (Ryanair), OVB (Czech Airlines), RYG (Norwegian), SPU (SmartWings), TAS (Czech Airlines), TJM (Yamal Airlines), TRF (Wizz Air)
Lost ARN (Sterling), BEG (JAT), BFS (easyJet), BLL (Sterling), CPH (Cimber, SAS, Sterling), DTM (easyJet), DUB (Czech Airlines), EMA (bmibaby), FCO (Alitalia), FLR (Meridiana), GRO (SmartWings), HAM (Lufthansa), KGS (SmartWings), KSC (SkyEurope), MAD (Air Europa, SmartWings), MXP (Alitalia), NCL (easyJet), ORK (Aer Lingus), PSA (SkyEurope), RMI (SkyEurope), SMI (SmartWings), SOF (Bulgaria Air, SkyEurope), TRS (SkyEurope), VAR (SkyEurope), ZAD (SkyEurope)
Source: OAG Max Online for w/c 7 Jul 2008 and w/c 6 July 2009
Image: Delta route launch
Delta’s Prague-New York JFK service is in competition with fellow SkyTeam alliance member, Czech Airlines. Surprisingly none of the major Middle Eastern carriers yet serves Prague.
image: easyjet ticket
The big orange once served 10 destinations but that’s now been cut back to five; of the abandoned routes Dortmund and Newcastle currently remain unserved.

High profile new routes are Delta’s decision to start non-stop services to New York JFK in competition with Czech Airlines, though since both are members of the SkyTeam alliance true competition on the route is unlikely. Surprisingly none of the major Middle Eastern carriers yet serves Prague and the only long-haul destinations served non-stop at present are Atlanta (with Delta), New York JFK, Seoul (with Korean Air) and Toronto (with Czech Airlines).

At one time easyJet served as many as 10 destinations from Prague and was the leading LCC but has since axed routes to Basel, Belfast, Dortmund, Geneva and Newcastle leaving just five remaining destinations, four of them in the UK. The Belfast service will be replaced this winter by bmibaby, while Basel and Geneva are still served by Swiss. Dortmund and Newcastle currently remain unserved.

Image: Brno airport
Brno Airport’s new departure hall opened in 2006 and was designed by architect Petr Parolek. Passenger numbers at the airport increased by 20% last year. Apart from multiple daily flights to Prague, and a range of charter flights to many Mediterranean destinations, Ryanair also offers daily flights to London Stansted. Last year, according to UK CAA statistics, 118,997 people flew on the route compared with 118,959 in 2007.

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