UK-France capacity returns to pre-credit crunch levels in 2017; easyJet is leading carrier, Paris CDG tops airport table

IGAvion, Southend

According to’s New Routes Database nine new routes have already launched between the UK and France in 2018. One of the most recent was IGAvion’s twice-weekly connection between London Southend and Chateauroux which got under way on 26 April. Chris Grayling MP, UK Transport Secretary; Glyn Jones, CEO, Stobart Aviation; and James Duddridge MP were on hand at the London airport to welcome the new arrival.

The UK – France country pair has a long history when it comes to air links, with innovative aviators first tempted to take on the Channel crossing challenge when powered flight was still in its infancy. Commercial air services eventually developed between the near neighbours, and in 2017 about 15.37 million two-way seats were available in this market, a 4.4% increase on 2016 numbers. This is the 10th European country pair has examined for key trends during the period 2008 – 2017. The UK-France market ranks fifth in terms of two-way capacity for 2017 behind the Germany – Spain (32.22 million two-way seats), UK – Germany (19.36 million), UK – Italy (17.38 million) and Italy – Spain (15.92 million) markets. However, it had more available seats than the Germany – Turkey (14.80 million), France – Spain (14.33 million), France – Italy (13.07 million), France – Germany (10.55 million) and UK – Turkey (5.29 million) country pairs. 

Entente Cordiale strengthened after capacity cuts

There were 15.43 million two-way seats in the UK – France market in 2008. Significant cuts took place in 2009 and 2010 with seat numbers dropping by 18% from 2008 to 2010. This decline corresponded with the height of the global economic downturn. The next five years witnessed a slight recovery, with seat numbers increasing by 3.0% from 2010 to 2015, despite another marginal decline taking place in 2013. However, in the past few years this European country pair has bounced back with capacity up 17% from 2015 to 2017, a period which included double-digit growth in 2016. The market would only need to grow by about 0.5% this year to exceed 2008 capacity levels for the first time since the credit crunch took hold.

UK, France

Source: OAG Schedules Analyser – non-stop flights only.

The average capacity on services between the UK and France increased from 128 seats in 2008, to 144 in 2017. Unsurprisingly, narrow-body aircraft are the most popular types in use in this country pair, operating 82% of the available seats in 2017. The proportion of seats flown on regional aircraft dropped from 19% in 2008 to 16% last year. One notable trend was an increase in the seats available on wide-body services to 2% of the total market last year. This was mainly due to British Airways deploying 767s between London Heathrow and Nice, and Air France using 787-9s from Paris CDG to Heathrow. The latter move was most likely for aircraft familiarisation purposes, with the French flag carrier introducing crews to its new wide-body type on the shorter sector, before eventually deploying the aircraft on long-haul routes.

Big hubs head airport table

Six of the top 12 departure airports in this country pair were located in the UK, with the other half in France. This analysis considers there to be four mega hubs in this market: Heathrow and London Gatwick in the UK, and CDG and Paris Orly in France. CDG, Heathrow and Gatwick occupied the top three spots in the airport rankings for this European country pair last year, based on departing seats. However, Orly didn’t even make the top 12, finishing in 15th position. The largest non-hub airport was Nice. The 15 largest routes between the UK and France departed from one of the four main hubs. The largest route by far was the link between Heathrow and CDG. Four of the top 12 airports serve London and these accounted for 31% of the available seats in the market between them in 2017. Manchester was the biggest UK departure point for French flights outside of London. CDG was the single largest departure point in this country pair. The Parisian hub offered flights to 20 UK airports last year. After Heathrow, its biggest UK routes were the links to Manchester, Gatwick and Birmingham.

UK, France

Source: OAG Schedules Analyser – non-stop flights only.

The majority of the top 12 departure airports for UK – France services witnessed an increase in capacity in 2017. Some of the strongest year-on-year growth came at Toulouse (47% up) and London Stansted (38%). In both cases, additional capacity from Ryanair was the single largest contributing factor to the growth. The only two top-ranked airports to see a decline in seat numbers last year (highlighted in red), also happened to be the biggest players in the market, although both CDG and Heathrow only saw marginal cuts in capacity. The top five airports remained unchanged from 2016. Toulouse was a big riser, moving up from ninth to sixth position, while Bordeaux entered the top 12 at the expense of Orly. 

Non-hubs offer biggest proportion of departing seats

From 2008 to 2017 non-hub airports have consistently provided more departing seats than the four mega hubs between the UK and France, although the gap has closed. In 2008 non-hub airports offered 9.85 million departing seats in this country pair. By 2017 this had fallen by 7.1% to 9.15 million seats. In contrast, the four hubs provided 5.58 million seats in 2008 and this has increased by 12% to 6.22 million by 2017. The proportion of seats flown from non-hub airports in this market subsequently dropped from 64% in 2008 to 60% last year.

UK, France

Source: OAG Schedules Analyser – non-stop flights only.

easyJet is dominant force

According to OAG schedules, 26 airlines offered at least one flight between the UK and France last year, although a small number of these did not operate regular scheduled services. In total, seven of the top 12 published carriers were British-based, while only two were French. However, it should be noted that some of Air France’s flights were operated by HOP! The remaining three carriers Ryanair, Vueling and CityJet offered flights in this market under seventh freedom rights. The top 12 in 2017 included six LCCs, three regional carriers, two-full service operators and one leisure airline. easyJet was the largest operator between the UK and France by some distance last year, accounting for nearly one-third of the available capacity on its own. The highest ranked French airline was Air France in fourth position. 

UK, France

Source: OAG Schedules Analyser – non-stop flights only.

The top-ranked carriers were evenly split between those that grew their capacity between the UK and France in 2017 and those that saw a decline in seat numbers (highlighted in red). Vueling enjoyed the biggest increase, with seat numbers up 61%. CityJet and Monarch Airlines saw the biggest cuts with capacity down 72% and 37% respectively. The latter carrier ceased operations last October. 

According to’s New Routes database, nine new routes have already launched between the UK and France in 2018 and a further six are scheduled to commence before the end of the year. Out of these 15 new links, only one will serve one of the four mega hubs, suggesting that 2018 will see a boost in the proportion of traffic travelling point-to-point.

There were 15.37 million two-way seats available in the UK – France country pair in 2017. Non-hub airports accounted for 60% of the available capacity last year. Airports with services in this market ranged from Aberdeen in the north of Scotland to Figari in Corsica.


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