Low-cost rivalry hots up in Barcelona; Ryanair launches El Prat base with five aircraft and 20 routes from September

The Battle of Barcelona goes straight to low-cost shootout. Keeping the goal are Vueling’s Alex Cruz and Spanair’s Mike Szücs.

Shareholder dividends, no new fleet orders and setting up a base at a major European airport? What does Ryanair think it is these days, a legacy carrier? Last week’s announcement by the Irish low-cost giant that it will start its 42nd base in September from Barcelona’s El Prat airport will give Vueling’s shareholders (including Iberia) and Spanair (now independent and fighting to carve out its own personal identity) something to think about. Since the opening of the splendid new terminal, Barcelona’s more than adequate old terminal has felt a bit empty with easyJet and other LCCs almost swamped by the facility. Ryanair’s decision to base five aircraft there and operate 135 weekly departures across 20 routes will, at a stroke, make it the airport’s fifth biggest carrier (in terms of flights and seats) after Vueling, Spanair, Iberia and easyJet.

Iberia’s influence has fallen significantly during the last decade

Back in 2000, Iberia and its regional partner Air Nostrum accounted for just over half of all the 19.5 million passengers passing through Barcelona’s main airport. Spanair had just over 8% of the market, Air Europa 6% and easyJet just over 2%.

Leading Barcelona airlines 2000-09 - Market share of annual passengers

Source: AENA

In just nine years, the picture has changed dramatically. Air Europa, easyJet and Spanair have all grown their market share while independent low-cost airline Vueling arrived in 2004, followed by Iberia-supported clickair in 2006. Now clickair and Vueling have merged to form the new Iberia-supported Vueling. However, even combining last year’s figures for clickair and Vueling shows that Iberia’s share of passenger traffic at the airport is around 34%, down one-third from the 51% of 2000.

Half of Ryanair’s new routes (and 60% of capacity) on domestic flights

Ryanair’s 20 planned routes from the airport consist of 10 domestic routes and 10 international routes; four to Italy and one each to Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Norway and United Kingdom. The 10 domestic routes account for 60% of the airline’s weekly frequencies.

Destination Ryanair
Competition at BCN (WF)
Brussels Charleroi 7 14 4 Brussels AL (27 to BRU), Vueling (17 to BRU)
Cagliari 3 7
Dublin 7 7 9 Aer Lingus (14)
Düsseldorf Weeze 4 10 3 airberlin (14 to DUS), Lufthansa (7 to DUS)
Edinburgh 3 5 Spanair (5), Vueling (3)
Gran Canaria 2 3 Air Europa (7), Spanair (8), Vueling (7)
Ibiza 7 7 Air Europa (13), Spanair (29), Vueling (56)
Lanzarote 3 2 Air Europa (7), Spanair (6)
Malaga 14 7 Spanair (12), Vueling (33)
Milan Bergamo 7 21 4 Alitalia (19 to LIN), easyJet (13 to MXP), Lufthansa Italia (14 to MXP), Vueling (14 to MXP)
Oslo Rygge 3 3 Norwegian (7 to OSL), SAS (5 to OSL)
Palma de Mallorca 14 7 7 airberlin (15), Air Europa (43), Spanair (44), Vueling (39)
Paris Beauvais 7 14 7 Air France (55 to CDG), easyJet (13 to CDG), Vueling (56 to ORY)
Rome Ciampino 7 17 Alitalia (28 to FCO), Vueling (35 to FCO)
Santander 7 4 Iberia (8)
Santiago de Compostela 11 5 Spanair (7), Vueling (17)
Seville 14 12 4 Spanair (16), Vueling (24)
Tenerife Sur 2 2 Air Europa (3), Spanair (2), Vueling (3)
Valencia 7 Iberia (1)
Venice Treviso 6 7 3 Spanair (14 to VCE), Vueling (21 to VCE)
Source: Ryanair and OAG Max online for w/c 16 August 2010
WF: Weekly frequency

Many of Ryanair’s new Barcelona routes are duplicated at the airline’s Girona base further north. It will be interesting to see what impact the new Barcelona routes will have on Girona routes and frequencies. Eight of the 20 routes are already served by Ryanair from both Girona and Reus. Furthermore, all of the destinations (with the exception of Cagliari) are already served from Barcelona by other carriers either to the same airport or sometimes to the bigger airport closer to the city such as in the case of Brussels, Milan, Oslo, Paris and Venice.

According to OAG data for August 2010, Ryanair’s network of 20 destinations will be beaten only by Vueling (43 routes) and Spanair (34 routes). Iberia including Air Nostrum (18), easyJet (15) and Air Europa (12) will all have less diverse networks than Ryanair come September.


  1. mary cogley says:

    Thank you Ryan air you have just made my day by adding Barcelona to your destinations for a couple of years we have had to fly with Air Lingus and it has cost us. We have used Clickair and Iberia before but they no longer fly from dublin so thank you Ryan Air.

  2. Jon says:

    Three airlines on edinburgh to Barcelona, a relatively small market, while Glasgow to Barcelona, a far bigger market goes completely un-served.

    Airlines = Gutless sheep.

  3. Simon says:

    I would be shocked if Glasgow-Barcelona was a bigger market. Edinburgh-Barcelona should be a good two-way market, whereas Glasgow-Barcelona is less so. Despite Glasgow’s many tourist atrractions, they are not as well known internationally as those in Edinburgh.

    Three airlines is probably overkill on Edinburgh-Barcelona, and the lack of Barcelona service from Glasgow is a major gap in Glasgow’s destination list, but I would still strongly suspect that Edinburgh-Barcelona is a larger market.

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