Spanish airports suffer as UK and domestic markets struggle; but Ryanair and US traffic still growing

Bull market: Only Ryanair is flying more passengers on its Spanish operations. In the background is Barcelona’s new Terminal 1 which opens on June 16.

Of all the major European air travel markets traffic to, from and within Spain appears to have been the hardest hit in the first four months of 2009. According to AENA passenger numbers at its 40-plus airports was down between 17% and 19% in each of the first three months of the year. However, the re-timing of Easter benefited April and as a result passenger numbers last month were down just 5.1%.

All of Spain’s top 15 airports have suffered to a greater or lesser extent with traffic in the first four months down between 5.6% (Tenerife Norte) and 27.4% (Valencia). Even Girona, where Ryanair has invested heavily and which has grown rapidly in recent years, has seen passenger numbers fall by almost 13%.

Chart: Top 15 Spanish airports
Source: AENA

Domestic and UK markets suffering

Spain’s domestic market is significant and last year generated 82 million passenger movements through the airports. A combination of a struggling economy (GDP fell by 2.9% in the first quarter of 2009) and some improvements in the domestic high-speed rail network have combined to reduce domestic air traffic by 17.3% in the first four months of 2009.

Chart: Top 15 Spanish country markets
Source: AENA

The UK market is down 16.2% which is below the overall average of 14.6%. The UK Pound – Euro exchange rate will have dampened demand for UK originating traffic as will the UK’s own economic situation. Traffic to/from the Netherlands is also down more than the average, possibly due to the Dutch travel tax introduced in the middle of last year and which is not due to disappear for another couple of months.

Sweden is another non-Euro country where exchange rates may have affected demand for leisure travel. However, passenger numbers to/from the US were up almost 6% and American Airlines recently started a new daily service from its base at Dallas/Fort Worth to Madrid.

Only Ryanair has increased passenger numbers

Analysis of which airlines passengers are flying with through Spanish airports reveals that nearly all the major airlines in the Spanish market have seen passenger numbers fall in the first four months of 2009. The exception is Ryanair which has seen an increase of almost 16% and has overtaken both Spanair and Air Europe in the last 12 months to become the second biggest airline in the country in terms of passengers. It now has bases in Girona, Reus, Alicante and Madrid though it closed its Valencia base after a funding dispute with local authorities. It is worth recalling that Ryanair only entered the Spanish market in late 2002 when it began flights from Frankfurt Hahn to Girona.

Chart: Top 12 airlines serving Spain
Source: AENA

Spanair has seen the biggest drop among the larger carriers as it has restructured itself following a change of ownership and the fallout from last August’s fatal crash at Madrid airport. airberlin has managed to keep its passenger numbers up reasonably well which has also helped its Palma base be one of the least affected airports. Though Ryanair grew other LCCs such as clickair, easyJet and Vueling have all seen traffic fall, though easyJet and Vueling were down less than 10%.

The 40% drop in traffic for Binter Canarias (which operates flights primarily between the various islands that make up the Canaries) is surprising as according to OAG schedule data the airline’s capacity was down only around 15%.


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