Can the low-cost airlines keep growing indefinitely? News in during the past month shows signs that the expansion of the past decade might be slowing, and that a strategy of flying to so-called “primary airports” may be a better bet.
Figures released by the two largest low-cost carriers are informative. Published without comment – a rarity for this firm – were the November passenger numbers from Ryanair, the Millwall of air carriers (everybody hates us and we don’t care). Growth from the same month last year was just 2%, with a load factor of 80%. Moreover, the full year load factor was not much better at 82%.
Compare this with EasyJet, whose results show a full year load factor of 87%. This carrier has always flown into primary airports where it can: Paris means CDG or Orly, not Beauvais, Barcelona means El Prat and not Girona or Reus, and Milan means Malpensa or Linate, not Orio Al Serio.
For a while now, there have been suggestions that there is only so much new traffic that the low-cost carriers can generate, and that the rest comes from abstraction from other airlines, or other transport modes. Ryanair’s numbers give just a hint that their strategy may be the one that suffers a slowing of growth first.
But EasyJet should not be complacent: Ryanair have started a move into more primary airports, notably at Barcelona El Prat recently. Sadly, as I observed last month, their budget didn’t stretch to translating their adverts into the local language.