How European LCC network are fundamentally different from LCCs elsewhere in the world

Newark became Southwest’s latest base at the end of March offering some 130 weekly departures

American low cost: Newark became Southwest’s latest base at the end of March offering some 130 weekly departures. Over 25% of Southwest’s systemwide flights operate on routes served at least seven times a day. In fact SWA serves only two routes less than daily and even these served are six times per week.

Norwegian is one of European low-cost airlines to operate routes at lower frequencies

Norwegian is one of European low-cost airlines to operate routes at lower frequencies. When its route from Gothenburg to Barcelona launched in August, it was at a frequency of only two weekly flights.

A recent study by confirmed that the networks of Europe’s major LCCs continue to be fundamentally different to most other major LCCs in other parts of the world. Analysis of eight major European LCCs and nine LCCs from the rest of the world looked at what proportion of their flights were operated on routes with certain levels of weekly frequency. The lowest category was just one or two flights per week, with the highest category equating to seven (or more) daily flights. The range of possible weekly frequencies was split into a total of seven categories.

Most major non-European LCCs operate few flights less than daily

The analysis of the OAG schedule data for the beginning of September showed that eight of the nine non-European LCCs operated at least 5% of their weekly flights on routes with a frequency of at least seven daily flights.

Non-European LCCs network comparison  Share of flights operated by weekly route frequency S11

Source: OAG Max Online for w/c 5 September 2011

Cake of the Week: Skopje

A June 2011 Cake of the Week: Macedonia’s capital Skopje gets its first London service since British Airways dropped its Gatwick route in 2001. Wizz Air’s four per week frequency is generous - in the last 12 months the average weekly frequency of new routes started by Wizz Air, Jet2 and Ryanair has been less than three flights per week.

Over 25% of Southwest’s flights are operating on routes served at least seven times per day. Southwest only operates two routes at less than daily frequency, and even these are served six times per week. The only non-European LCC to buck this trend is the reasonably well established (and profitable) Air Arabia which operates no routes with three or more daily flights and has over 30% of its flights being operated on routes where the frequency is less than daily.

European LCCs embrace lower frequency route concept

The same analysis for eight of Europe’s biggest LCCs show a significantly different pattern with a much higher percentage of flights being allocated to routes with less than daily flights.

Euro LCCs network comparison Share of flights operated by weekly route frequency S11

Source: OAG Max Online for w/c 5 September 2011

Only Norwegian (some domestic routes from Oslo, plus Oslo – Stockholm) and Vueling (Barcelona – Paris Orly, and Barcelona – Ibiza in summer) operate any routes with at least seven daily flights. Ryanair’s top route is Dublin to London Stansted which is currently served by 47 weekly flights. The second busiest route (Dublin – London Gatwick) has 31 weekly flights. Ryanair’s 13% of flights which are operated with just one or two weekly flights represents an astonishing 360 routes.

Belfast BMI Baby

April 2011: Julian Carr, managing director bmibaby and Brian Ambrose, CEO George Best Belfast City Airport celebrate the announcement of the low-cost airline’s new base at the Northern Ireland airport (the first route to Amsterdam, launches later this month). At seven per week bmibaby’s frequencies look high by European standards, but are heavily influenced by the double dailies it will offer on domestic services from the new George Best base.

Average weekly frequency is still declining

During the last 12 months the average weekly frequency of new routes started by, Ryanair and Wizz Air has been less than three flights per week, with germanwings only marginally above this figure. For easyJet and Norwegian the figure is closer to four weekly flights. For bmibaby the relatively high figure of over seven flights per week is heavily influenced by the carrier’s focus on new double-daily domestic routes from its new base at Belfast City airport.

Euro LCCs network comparison Average weekly frequency of new routes started between October 2010 and September 2011  (and number of routes started)

Source: new route database

Another significant point is that Ryanair started more new routes during the last 12 months than the other seven European LCCs combined, although the Irish carrier also dropped more than 100 routes during the last year as well, creating opportunities for other carriers (such as bmibaby at Belfast City).

European leisure market drives difference

In Europe a combination of more non-work days (annual leave and national holidays), ‘cheap’ secondary airports, and a liberalised market enabling cheaper international flights all combine with a historic tendency for travel and adventure, to make all-leisure routes economically viable for low-cost carriers. Elsewhere in the world most LCCs rely, at least to some degree, on the business travel market on all of their routes, which typically requires a minimum of at least a daily flight.


  1. Juergen says:

    Being “my” market, I’d like to add one note…
    Yes, the LCCs operate many routes with focus on leisure traffic, which allows for a weekly or twice weekly rotation. But there is about as much demand for twice daily (or more) on business routes.
    The ‘problem’ is that LCCs use big aircraft and if you have a twice daily with 180 seats, some 12 rotations a week, you have to have 2,160 passengers every week. Just for that one route. Or 4,320 seats filled. Which makes for +400K passengers a year. In the wide-spread settlement typical for Europe and the density of airports and airfields, competition is an issue.
    In addition, much of the leisure traffic still is ‘packaged travel’ offered by tour operators, using dedicated charter flights. So we have a lot of
    – Network Carriers. Connecting the regions through their hubs with the world
    – LCCs. Connecting densely populated regions with holiday destinations. The percentage of ‘unpackaged’ or ‘dynamically packaged’ travel vs. ‘pre-packaged’ increases.
    – Regional airlines. Offering ‘secondary’ to hub routes or point-to-point. Smaller aircraft enables routes and frequency patterns that cannot reasonably support large aircraft, though sometimes they open a market for the ‘Big Boys’.
    – Charter airlines. Focused largely and depending on tour operator business and packaged travel. Their advantage is to have a reduced risk for a route, as they usually have the tour ops, selling the package including the flight.

    And yes, then there is the ad hoc business charter, focusing on ‘on demand’ travel.

    So it has some differences to operate in Europe. But in the end it comes down to route analysis, network development and business case 😉
    Not much different in other parts of the world, just the complexity is slightly different in good ol’ Europe 😉

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