DLR | Decline in low-cost flights despite a record number of routes in summer 2019

The growth of low-cost offerings came to a standstill in Germany during the 2019 summer season. Although there was a slight expansion of the route network, especially to Italy, the number of flights fell to approximately one percent below last year’s level. There has been a decline in flights to Spain and the UK, as well as internal flights within Germany. Among German-based, low-cost carriers, only Wizz carried out a significant expansion, while the two biggest airlines – Eurowings and Ryanair – saw reductions. These results have now been published by the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) in its ‘Low Cost Monitor 2/2019’, a report published every spring and autumn since 2006.

Wizz grows despite the negative trend

“German market leader, Eurowings, reduced its flights by 3.5 percent compared with the previous year, and now has approximately 3100 departures every week,” says Study Leader Peter Berster of the DLR Institute of Air Transport and Airport Research in Cologne. “Overall, the record figure of 6750 departures per week from the previous year has not been reached, and figures are down by one percent this year. Ryanair accounts for 1256 flights, and together with Lauda it is offering more than 1500, just under two percent fewer flights than last year. They are followed by easyJet with 1147 departures every week, and Wizz with 314. The airline Wizz is still growing despite the current downward trend in Germany.

Budget airlines now operate 940 routes from Germany – 14 more than the previous year. This expansion in routes is largely the result of extra services offered by easyJet and Wizz. Passengers bound for destinations in Italy are particularly well served. The share of the low-cost segment in flights from German airports is now around 33 percent, compared to 32 percent in summer 2018. The general decline in the number of flights in Germany plays a role here. Other German-based airlines recorded a reduction of approximately 3.5 percent – even more than the low-cost carriers.

Average prices are on the rise

“Higher costs have led to price increases among budget airlines compared to the previous year,” says Berster. “This autumn, the price range is around 44 to 111 euros, as opposed to 38 to 100 euros in autumn 2018 and 34 to 97 euros in autumn 2017. This means that companies have once again raised prices compared with last year,” he continues. The price range given here summarises the average gross airfares for a representative sample of routes flown by Germany’s most important low cost airlines – Eurowings, Ryanair, easyJet and Wizz. The average prices given in the Low Cost Monitor are determined on the basis of different advance booking periods – from one day to three months.

Dusseldorf and Stuttgart make gains

Counter to the general trend in Germany, low-cost flights from Dusseldorf Airport are seeing striking positive growth. “Dusseldorf has increased its services – particularly via Eurowings – to reach over 1100 departures per week, making it the German airport to offer the largest number of low-cost flights,” explains Berster. Berlin-Tegel is in second place. Stuttgart has also increased its low-cost offerings and now occupies fourth place. “Germany’s busiest airport, Frankfurt, played a minor role in the low-cost segment in summer 2019 due to its distinctive function as a hub for conventional scheduled services and the fact that it is often at full capacity,” says Berster. Looking at Europe as a whole, the airports of Barcelona, London and Dublin saw the most low-cost traffic, due to the high number of routes offered by Vueling, easyJet and Ryanair.

Competition with airline alliances on long-haul routes

At the major airports of London, Paris, Copenhagen and Stockholm, low-cost carriers are seeking to attract passengers who traditionally travel with the classic airline alliances. Rome, Madrid, Amsterdam and Athens have recently joined the list of major points of departure from Europe, where low-cost airlines are in direct competition with airlines, such as Air France. Destinations include New York, Los Angeles, Fort Lauderdale and Oakland in the USA, and Bangkok in Asia. By using modern, smaller aircraft, low-cost airlines are also able to serve secondary airports on both sides of the Atlantic, such as Edinburgh in Europe and Providence in the USA. Due to the current grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX, however, some of these routes are not currently bookable. In total, Norwegian offered low-cost connections between Europe and North America and Asia on 54 routes in summer 2019. This amounts to three fewer routes than last year, but the number of intercontinental flights has seen a slight increase. Eurowings has a strong presence in Dusseldorf and has discontinued its long-haul connections from Cologne and Munich. As a result, the Lufthansa subsidiary is significantly reducing its offerings of low-cost airfares for long-haul flights.

European market increases by four percent

The number of low-cost flights has risen by almost four percent to over 67,000 departures per week across Europe. A larger increase is seen in flights to Italy and Greece. Ryanair/Lauda and easyJet are continuing to strengthen their market leadership in Europe. Ryanair now boasts approximately 17,000 departures from Europe per week, while easyJet follows with over 13,100. Ryanair added around 500 routes to its offerings in summer 2018, and easyJet grew its network by approximately 150 routes.

Competition among budget airlines in Europe remains relatively low. Just over 1650 routes are served by two or more airlines. To cater to its expanded selection of routes, Ryanair now has a fleet of over 450 Boeing 737 aircraft, each with 189 seats. This is a slight increase of 3.5 percent compared with the previous year, but several new Boeing 737 MAX aircraft have not yet been delivered due to the current flight ban. Lauda also has 20 Airbus aircraft. Over the same period, easyJet grew its fleet by around seven percent, to 334 aircraft. By contrast, Norwegian has only around 150 aircraft, as approximately 20 long-haul Boeing 737 MAX models are affected by the flight ban. The current fleet thus consists of around 110 Boeing 737 aircraft and over 30 modern long-haul Boeing 787 aircraft, which are used for intercontinental traffic to Asia and North America. It also includes a number of other models to help compensate for the current unavailability of the Boeing 737 MAX.

Low-cost and traditional scheduled flights

Airlines often shape their low-cost offerings in very different ways. As a result, it is only possible to define a few differentiation criteria for the low-cost market segment, such as a low price and general availability or direct sales online. A trend towards mixed business models is becoming increasingly apparent among airlines. While Ryanair is operating more at major airports and attempting to attract premium customers through its add-on packages, charter carriers and established airlines are entering the low-cost airline market via subsidiaries or their own offerings. In Germany, Lufthansa has transferred its domestic and European flights to and from the hub airports of Frankfurt and Munich to its subsidiary Eurowings. The results of the study are based on data from a reference week in July 2019.

More Information

Source: German Aerospace Center (DLR), 5 November 2019