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Ryanair carried 65 million passengers last year; that’s 40% more than easyJet (46.1m)

Image: germanwings Hannover base
germanwings recovered at the end of 2009 and has just announced a new base in Hannover that will create 15 new routes with three aircraft. The airline’s CEO Thomas Winkelmann celebrates with Hannover’s delighted managing director Raoul Hille.

The European low-cost airline market continued to evolve during 2009. After the demise of Sterling in 2008, last year saw the untimely end of operations for Flyglobespan, MyAir and SkyEurope. The clickair brand also disappeared as the airline completed its merger with fellow Spanish LCC Vueling. Meanwhile, airberlin (which will be removed from this analysis from 2010 as it really can no longer be considered an LCC by just about any definition), absorbed TUIfly.com’s “city centre” network. Among the real LCCs, passenger figures for 2009 show that Ryanair with 65.3 million passengers (+13.3%) extended its lead over easyJet with 46.1 million (+3.4%). Among the second-tier LCCs, Norwegian transported 10.8 million passengers, Aer Lingus (short-haul) 9.7 million, Vueling 8.2 million, Wizz Air 7.8 million (+33%) and germanwings 7.2 million (-6%).

Chart: European LCCs: Passenger development - Year-on-year change in passenger numbers: 1/08 - 12/09
Source: Airline websites, UK CAA

In recent months, the ‘new Vueling’ has reported spectacular growth, though this merely reflects the impact of its merger with clickair rather than lots of new route launches and frequency increases. Norwegian has reported impressive growth of between 20% and 30% in recent months as it continues to exploit SAS’ weakness in the Scandinavian market. Ryanair has maintained double-digit growth during most of 2009, while easyJet, after a period of consolidation during the first half of last year, managed 10% growth in each of the last two months of 2009. After scaling down its operation slightly last year, Lufthansa-controlled germanwings has already revealed plans to grow in 2010 with the launch of a new base in Hannover from the end of April, which will require three aircraft. Under Lufthansa ownership, bmibaby is still shrinking with passenger numbers down 20-30% for most of last year.

Chart: European LCCs: Monthly load factors - January 2008 - December 2009
Source: Airline websites, AENA, UK CAA. Note: Load factors for bmibaby, clickair and jet2.com are “flown”, all others are “booked”.

Ryanair and in particular easyJet continued to post impressive load factors at the back end of 2009, breaking 80% in both November and December. In contrast, Aer Lingus and Vueling both reported load factors of just under 70% in December.


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