Liverpool welcomes back KLM after 70 years, as easyJet and Ryanair vie for supremacy

Image: Lead Image
Michel Coumans, CEO KLM Cityhopper (far left) and Neil Pakey (far right) Liverpool John Lennon’s airport director and, Deputy CEO of Peel Airports, send off the first KLM-Amsterdam service after a break of 70 years. Inset: what it looked like shortly after KLM left last time.

Liverpool’s Speke airport opened as long ago as 1933 and in the late 30s was arguably the most modern of UK airports with its impressive art deco terminal. The old terminal is now a hotel and the airport re-branded in 2002 as Liverpool John Lennon Airport. During the first half of the 1990s the airport languished somewhat as nearby Manchester grabbed the headlines with its plans and approval for a second runway.

Image: easyJet
Pakey’s hand again: In May easyJet added its ninth aircraft at Liverpool – an A320 to serve three new routes to Naples, Dubrovnik, and Bordeaux. easyJet is a big loyalist – the only routes it has axed since arriving in 1997 are Basel, Cologne/Bonn, London Luton and Marseille.

However, the emergence of low-cost scheduled airlines gave the airport a new lease of life, starting in October 1997 when easyJet launched its first route from the airport to Amsterdam. easyJet has gone on to develop the airport as one of its major bases and recently based a ninth aircraft at the airport, enabling it to start new services to Bordeaux, Dubrovnik and Naples.

Chart: Airport Traffic
Source: UK CAA

Ryanair has served 56 destinations

Ryanair first served the airport from Dublin as far back as 1990 but did not start a second route from Liverpool until 2002 when Brussels Charleroi services began. Major network expansion for the Irish carrier began in 2005 with 13 new routes followed by 19 routes in 2006. In terms of weekly seat capacity Ryanair and easyJet are very close, though characteristically Ryanair operates to almost twice as many destinations.

Airline Frequency share Capacity share Routes
easyJet 44.9% 45.7% 20
Ryanair 35.4% 43.8% 36
Wizz Air 3.2% 3.7% 4
Flybe 5.5% 2.8% 1 (Isle of Man)
KLM 4.4% 2.3% 1 (Amsterdam)
Eastern Airways 6.3% 1.5% 2 (Aberdeen, Southampton)
Thomsonfly 0.2% 0.2% 1 (Pama)
Source: OAG Max Online for w/c 10 August 2009

Ryanair operates a number of seasonal (summer and winter) routes and along with a few routes that it has given up along the way (such as Aberdeen, Brussels Charleroi, Inverness, Santander, Tampere and Valencia), has served a total of 56 destinations at some point or other during the last six years. Most recently it began thrice-weekly flights to Ibiza at the end of March.

Wizz Air started to serve Liverpool in December 2004 and currently serves Gdansk, Katowice and Warsaw while a new Prague service will begin on 11 July. It has also served Bucharest and Budapest in the past. Curiously, Budapest is a destination that Ryanair has also failed to make a success of from the airport.

UK regional airline Eastern Airways begins domestic services to both Aberdeen and Southampton starting 6 July. Both routes will be served thrice-daily (on weekdays) using small turboprop aircraft. Flybe currently operates just a single route (to the Isle Of Man) but back in early 2005 it created a mini-base at the airport and started flights to Belfast City, Edinburgh, Exeter, Glasgow, Jersey and Southampton. By the end of 2007 all of these routes had been abandoned.

Battle for Belfast

easyJet’s busiest route is to Belfast International which is a short hop of just over 250 kilometres across the Irish Sea. easyJet currently serves the route with six daily flights. Flybe began four daily flights to Belfast City in February 2005 but terminated the route in early 2007. Ryanair began flights to Belfast City in October 2007, offering twice-daily flights. In 2008 Ryanair carried 156,000 passengers on its route while easyJet saw its passenger numbers on the service fall from 460,000 in 2007 to 395,000 in 2008. Back in 2003 easyJet carried over 560,000 passengers to and from Belfast.

KLM returns after 70 years; targets 100,000 passengers

The start of this year’s summer season heralded the return after 70 years (no, not a misprint) of KLM. The airline had served Speke from Amsterdam between 1934 and 1939 and never re-started the route after the Second World War. Now it operates thrice-daily flights with an 80-seat Fokker 70 in direct competition with easyJet who at one time offered five-daily flights but has gradually been reducing capacity so that this summer it offers just 15 weekly flights. Annual passenger numbers on the route peaked in 2002 at 410,000 but have been falling ever since and last year easyJet handled just 256,000 passengers on the route.

In the first three months of 2009 easyJet’s passenger numbers on the Amsterdam route were down 20% versus last year. Since KLM started operating year-on-year passenger numbers are up 21% in April and 16% in May indicating that KLM’s arrival on the route has added around 8,000 to 9,000 passengers per month. Whether all of these are flying on KLM is not publicly known but if they are then KLM’s target of 100,000 annual passengers would appear to be within range.

Image: easyJet
Photo: Liverpool Daily Post. Talking to The Post about KLM’s Amsterdam route easyJet’s communications director, Toby Nicol, seen here with Neil Pakey (who wisely has his hand in his pocket to keep it under control) was both scathing of the Dutch carrier’s chances and made unsubstantiated allegations of narcotics use: “Do they put something in the coffee in Amsterdam? My prediction is that, within 10 to 18 months, they will be doing a low-profile withdrawal from Liverpool. I don’t think there’s enough people who want to go from Liverpool through Amsterdam to somewhere else, which is the only reason to do it. And if you want to go point-to-point, you would go with easyJet. If they are still on the route in 18 months, I will drive up to Liverpool and buy you all dinner”. In a strange coincidence Toby once heroically saved the Liverpool airport boss’ life in Amsterdam, risking his own to drag him from a canal in an incident witnessed by the publisher of


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