UK-to-US traffic down 10% in 2009; Heathrow’s share of market jumps from 60% to 75% in two years

US Airways Plane

Since US Airways, Delta and Continental moved from Gatwick in 2008, Heathrow’s share of scheduled UK-US traffic has leapt - from 61% in 2007 to 76% in 2009.

After the excitement of 2008, when routes between London Heathrow and the US were finally fully liberalised, allowing several US carriers to switch their flights from London Gatwick (assuming they could obtain the necessary slots), last year saw a consolidation on US routes from the UK and a fall in passenger numbers of 10% to 16.3 million. This was the lowest level since 1997 and a long way short of the 20 million which the growth in the market during the late 90s would have suggested should have been reached long ago.

In the last two years, the share of UK-US traffic that has been generated from airports other than Heathrow and Gatwick has fallen from 18% to 14%. More significantly, Heathrow’s share of scheduled UK-US traffic has leapt from 61% in 2007 to 70% in 2008 and 76% in 2009.

Chart: UK-US air traffic 1996-2009 - Annual passengers (millions)

Source: UK CAA

The shift of flights from Gatwick to Heathrow which saw Gatwick’s scheduled traffic to the US fall by 31% in 2008, resulted in a further fall of 34% in 2009. In just two years Gatwick’s scheduled traffic to the US has fallen from 3.8 million to 1.7 million. By contrast, Heathrow’s US traffic grew by 10.5% in 2008 to 12.6 million and fell by just 2.1% last year to 12.4 million.

Chart: Heathrow/Gatwick traffic to USA - Monthly scheduled passengers 2007-09

Source: UK CAA

Looking at individual months, when traffic is combined across both airports (Gatwick and Heathrow) and compared with 2007, traffic was down by more than 10% in four months; February (-10.0%), March (-15.7%), November (-14.8%) and December (-12.5%). February and March were impacted by the leap year in 2008 and the shift in Easter respectively, but the most recent figures for November and December suggest the UK-US market is still deteriorating in terms of pure demand.

All carriers cutting capacity; Virgin to resume Chicago service in May

A year-on-year comparison of seat capacity for February reveals that all seven UK and US carriers have cut capacity in February 2010 relative to 2009. In terms of individual routes, there have been few network changes, though Virgin Atlantic no longer operates its Chicago route year round. According to its on-line booking tool, its daily Chicago service will resume on 27 May.

Chart: Top airlines to USA from LGW/LHR Weekly scheduled departing seats

Source: OAG Max Online for w/c 18 February 2008, w/c 16 February 2009, w/c 15 February 2010


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