Antwerp-Milan is “Skyscanner Unserved Route of the Week” with 45,000 searches; VLM Airlines’ next venture?

Nobody disputes that Antwerp is “Diamond Capital of the World” (a $50 billion business commanding 80% of the global diamond trade). Milan’s claim to be “World Fashion Capital” is more disputed, but there’s no denying the strength of this Skyscanner indicator for 45,000 travellers on this unserved city pair.

With nearly 45,000 searches in the last year, a potential city pair from Antwerp to Milan has been identified as this week’s “ Unserved Route of Week” – a powerful analysis based on aspirational data captured from the flight comparison site used by +60 million unique visitors per month. “Both Milan and Antwerp are known for the fashion scene,” says Catherine Stuyck, Marketing & Communication Manager, Antwerp Airport. “This is one of the reasons why a direct route between these two cities was a top favourite among the destinations according to a survey of the Antwerp Chamber of Commerce.”

Matt Williamson Skyscanner’s Commercial Executive says: “Antwerp serves less than 1% of the catchment (50 km around the airport) going to Milan. With better service, such as a non-stop operation, Antwerp will capture most of that traffic currently leaking to competing airports.” thinks VLM Airlines or bmi regional should romp onto this route

Skyscanner demand on this week’s unserved route shows a preference towards the Antwerp end of the city pair, with a 64/36 split, so on this basis we looked at potential carriers at the Belgian origin first. According to OAG schedules for the week commencing 11 January, the largest carrier at Antwerp is TUI Airlines Belgium (64% share of weekly seats). The airline’s six-destination route network from the Belgian airport (it offered eight destinations in S17) presently consists of six European destinations, including Alicante (four times weekly), Malaga (three), Murcia, Nador, Barcelona and Innsbruck (all twice-weekly). While the leisure carrier is clearly operating in the city break market with its existing Barcelona route, and its 112-seat E190s could offer the right capacity for a low frequency sector to Milan, the type of traffic expected on the run to the Italian city would expect a higher level of frequency than perhaps a twice or three times weekly service would offer. In fact TUI did offer a three times weekly (Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays) operation to Milan Malpensa in S15, but the airport pair didn’t return the following year.

Behind TUI at Antwerp there is the reborn VLM Airlines (36% share of seats), now operating under the VO code rather than VG, which presently flies to London City 19 times weekly. However, the carrier is in expansion mode, with a 10 times weekly service to Zurich beginning on 22 January, as well as links announced this week to Birmingham, Maribor (via Munich) and Munich, which are planned to begin next month. According to OAG schedules, the previous incarnation of VLM did fly a single rotation to Malpensa in S16 with its ubiquitous Fokker 50 fleet, so it at least knows the way to Milan! On this basis Antwerp’s home carrier is the most likely to consider a new route to the Italian city, especially now given this compelling Skyscanner data.

Using market experience

Contemplating the Italian end of the route, there are of course three different airport options – namely Bergamo, Linate and Malpensa. Many of the top carriers at these airports – Ryanair is #1 at Bergamo and easyJet is #1 at Malpensa for example – are not equipped to serve Antwerp with its restricted runway performance. While Alitalia is the #1 capacity provider at Linate and it does fly its E175s from the airport, its operations from the downtown facility are limited to domestic destinations and key European cities, of which unfortunately Antwerp would not be considered one. Given the market and operational challenges of this city pair, perhaps this route would be best served by a niche market opportunity seeking airline like bmi regional, which could offer the right frequency and capacity for the market with its 37-seat ERJ 135s and 49-seat ERJ 145s. While the airline doesn’t operate from Antwerp currently, it has in the past flown to the Belgian airport from Manchester up until 2013, so it has local market knowledge. Additionally, the regional carrier operates into Bergamo from Munich and into Malpensa from Bristol, again giving it vital Milan market intelligence.

Source: Skyscanner.

Lots of surface leakage

When looking at the previous year of search data (graph above), the busiest month for potential traffic flows (from Antwerp) is July 2017, with nearly 5,000 searches, while the quietest month was April 2017 (1,500 searches). Given the anticipated booking profile of the route – short-haul business – 80% of travellers on this potential sector will be wanting to book in the last month before departure, so this would seem to indicate that the busiest month for traffic will be August, with the seasonal low being in May. Using the same methodology for the Milan end of the sector, the peak month for traffic will be November, with the low again being May. As suggested by the catchment map above, travellers looking to get to Milan from the Antwerp region tend to leak by road to other Belgian airports rather than using a connecting air service, so there is little traffic between the two cities using an intermediate hub to analyse. 

Indeed, an O&D market that is not served by a non-stop flight will typically display a low purchase rate and low traffic. In this instance Skyscanner’s Travel Insight indicates a monthly average of 0.1% for the Antwerp to Milan route (see graph below). Therefore, if there was an Antwerp to Milan route, and if bookings performed in line with the “Skyscanner market average” for direct services at both airports (6.5%), the airline operating this route could immediately expect an improved purchase rate of a whopping 6,400%, without any increased marketing spend. However, with 45,000 annual searches in the last year, and with the sector being operated by an appropriately-sized aircraft for the type of route, a week day or even a daily service should be immediately viable for the airline choosing to start this potential city pair. “This route is not only important to business people, it is also the ideal city trip connection as art and culture followers will find plenty to see and do in both cities. Design, fine food and amazing architecture also link Antwerp and Milan,” concludes Stuyck.

Source: Skyscanner.

About this analysis and Skyscanner data

“Unserved Route of the Week” is a cooperation between and the B2B branch of the consumer flight comparison site and is a new kind of analysis harnessing an entirely new resource: the amazing power of the aspirational data captured from flight comparison site which has +60 million unique visitors per month.

Skyscanner” packages this amazing B2C data into a suite of business products which offer comprehensive data solutions – our specific need to identify unserved routes uses the Skyscanner Travel Insight product, a comprehensive, unique ‘big data’ set that can accurately predict future demand by telling you where 60 million real living-and-breathing travellers actually want to fly to. (And bear in mind that there are other significant search volumes that could also be added to the Skyscanner totals – from dedicated airline websites, competitive search engines etc, underlining the value of Skyscanner data as a conservative indicator of market route demand.)

Check next week’s newsletter for another great “Unserved Route of the Week” – or browse in’s Route Shop where there are 3,100 more unserved routes.



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