The single operating certificate that was granted to United-Continental last month will see the combined entity overtake Delta Air Lines as the world's largest airline. American Airlines has dropped to third in the ranking, based on available seat kilometers, and through capacity cuts associated with its bankruptcy may fall to fourth place next year, allowing Emirates to swoop in as third largest. If American and US Airways merge they would likely fall just under United Airlines but could catch up in subsequent years.
Emirates has moved into fourth place (by ASKs). Five US carriers feature on the top ten, while no mainland Chinese carrier is yet in the top flight although Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific is in at number 10. China Southern (12th) and Air China (14th) are knocking at the door and could enter the Top 10 in 2012, if cutbacks are enacted by Europe's majors, including British Airways.
Other fast movers in 2011 have included Qatar Airways (20th) and Turkish Airways (23rd) and both are expected to keep climbing the rankings next year, likely ending the year well inside the Top 20, possibly at the expense of KLM and Air Canada.
World's biggest airlines by Seats and ASKs per week: Dec-2011*
|Delta Air Lines||3,695,967||6,581,811,561||
|Cathay Pacific Airways||572,675||2,523,178,383||10|
|China Southern Airlines||1,776,508||2,466,987,278||11|
|China Eastern Airlines||1,428,628||1,877,730,572||16|
|Korean Air Lines||661,093||1,851,529,373||17|
|All Nippon Airways||1,450,406||1,661,498,854||19|
|Total for top 25 airlines||34,534,824||68,878,744,410|
Longer flights drive growth
The world's airlines are scheduling 3.2% more flights this month, translating into 5.3% more seats and 7.3% more ASKs than in Dec-2010. With ASKs growing faster than flights and seats, airlines are opening longer flights. Growth in this area is spurred by network carriers China Southern, Emirates, Etihad, Qatar and Turkish Airlines.
China Southern this year has taken delivery of A380s and is deploying them on domestic routes before international flights, which it has yet to announce the details of but are expected to be sent to Europe and North America. Large growth at the carrier is occurring to Australia and New Zealand where China Southern hopes to become a new link between Australia and Europe. The carrier is planning a fourfold increase in flights to the region over the next three years, increasing its services to 110 flights a week – 16 a day.
Read more (premium access): China Southern Airlines adds 34 routes this winter and expands on its long-haul strategy
Emirates had envisioned large growth in the US early last decade but put the plan on hold after the Sep-2001 terrorist attacks. The country will see a larger Emirates presence over the next few years, with the carrier starting a daily route to Seattle early next year. (A flight to Dallas will also be started, but one of its two daily Houston services will be withdrawn.) Chicago is a likely future destination. Emirates last month ordered 50 B777-300ERs to fuel medium-term growth this decade.
Read more (open access):
This past third quarter was Etihad's best as the carrier continues to grow, seeing strong demand on ultra-long-haul flights, and nears its first annual profit.
Read more (open access): Etihad Airways sees best ever third quarter as first annual profit nears
Qatar is adding long-haul routes but is focusing strongly on South Asia, and India in particular, as it looks to catch up from its position as the fifth largest carrier between the Middle East and India.
Read more (premium access): More Indian sub-Continent destinations on the cards for Qatar Airways
While the big three Gulf network carriers primarily use widebody aircraft, Turkish Airlines is embarking on a novel strategy of deploying B737-900ERs on medium-haul thin routes. Whereas other carriers serve the route a few times a week with large aircraft, Turkish is pursuing daily frequencies with less capacity. It will first start this strategy in Africa but could expand it to Central Asia and India.
While some Middle East carriers deploy A319s and A320s, Turkish's B737-900ERs will have further range and can carry more passengers, with CEO Temel Kotil telling CAPA the cost is closer to that of a widebody.
Read more (open access): Small capacity with regular frequency key for Turkish Airlines strategy to Africa, and perhaps India
Worldwide capacity: Dec-2010 vs Dec-2011*
|Grand Total Flights per Week||558,317||576,410||3.2%|
|Grand Total Seats per Week||69,522,777||73,209,997||5.3%|
|Grand Total ASKs per Week||118,079,692,352||126,646,732,454||7.3%|
Growth at alliances, LCCs and unaligned carriers
The world's LCCs have again grown their share of global aviation to 22.5% of total seats. Of the global alliances, only SkyTeam has grown its share this month, to 16.2% of seats.
LCC vs Unaligned vs Alliances capacity and shares (%) of global aviation: Dec-2010 vs Dec-2011*
|Alliance||Dec-2010||Dec-2011||% Change||% of Totals|
|oneworld||Flights per Week||55,375||56,361||1.8%||9.9%||9.8%||-0.1%|
|Seats per Week||7,735,087||7,912,797||2.3%||11.1%||10.8%||-0.3%|
|ASKs per Week||17,275,433,876||18,004,223,903||4.2%||14.6%||14.2%||-0.4%|
|SkyTeam Alliance||Flights per Week||80,302||89,466||11.4%||14.4%||15.5%||1.1%|
|Seats per Week||10,081,057||11,869,613||17.7%||14.5%||16.2%||1.7%|
|ASKs per Week||19,029,196,189||22,455,147,563||18.0%||16.1%||17.7%||1.6%|
|Star Alliance||Flights per Week||141,037||141,383||0.2%||25.3%||24.5%||-0.7%|
|Seats per Week||16,811,165||17,280,855||2.8%||24.2%||23.6%||-0.6%|
|ASKs per Week||30,776,376,824||32,833,410,837||6.7%||26.1%||25.9%||-0.1%|
|Low Cost Carriers||Flights per Week||105,602||112,458||6.5%||18.9%||19.5%||0.6%|
|Seats per Week||15,424,186||16,508,117||7.0%||22.2%||22.5%||0.4%|
|ASKs per Week||18,226,468,326||19,848,579,183||8.9%||15.4%||15.7%||0.2%|
|Un-Aligned Carriers||Flights per Week||176,001||176,742||0.4%||31.5%||30.7%||-0.9%|
|Seats per Week||19,471,282||19,638,615||0.9%||28.0%||26.8%||-1.2%|
|ASKs per Week||32,772,217,138||33,505,370,968||2.2%||27.8%||26.5%||-1.3%|
Largest low-cost carriers
The largest mover in the top 25 LCCs based on ASKs was Volaris, the Mexican LCC that moved up six ranking positions and had the highest overall growth rate, 58%, of all of the top 25 LCCs. Volaris has benefited from Mexicana's 2010 exit and started rapidly increasing capacity in late 1Q2011. Volaris has now doubled its US presence while maintaining healthy load factors. Volaris is expanding out of Mexico City, a point it initially shunned, although smaller Mexican carrier InterJet has seen the largest overall growth.
Read more about the dynamic of the growing Mexican market: A year after Mexicana's exit, Aeromexico, Mexican LCCs and US carriers are main beneficiaries
Air Berlin and Indigo
Also making big moves in rankings were Air Berlin and Indigo, who each moved up two rankings. Air Berlin's growth, however, has not been followed with profitability. Indigo is the largest carrier in India, which has the second-highest domestic growth rate after Chile, and is currently the only profitable one in the market.
Read more (premium access):
9.3% overall growth
Ryanair and Vueling were the only LCCs in the top 25 to have decreased capacity. Ryanair is grounding 80 aircraft this winter to preserve yields in the face of high fuel prices. Read more (open access): Ryanair raises full-year profit target by 10% following strong 1H profit and yield result
While Air Berlin and Indigo saw jumps in their rankings, other carriers saw impressive growth, including jetBlue, Norwegian and Virgin America. The distances between themselves and larger carriers in the rankings are often large enough that even substantial growth rates are not enough to close the gap. Spirit Airlines fell four places in the ranking, but its growth rate, 10.5%, was still above the 9.3% average.
Southwest will maintain its position as the world's largest LCC since its ASKs are not only nearly double that of the number two carrier, jetBlue, but its acquisition of AirTran (#7) will further set it apart from other LCCs. Southwest aims to have a single operating certificate with AirTran in Mar-2012.
Ryanair may continue to ground aircraft during off-peak times if fuel prices do not improve, but is unlikely to drop below jetBlue.
EasyJet (#4) and Gol (#5) each plan capacity growth around 4% for 2012. Gol's slightly longer flight sectors may see it edge ahead of easyJet. While Gol has acquired fellow Brazilian carrier Webjet, Webjet will remain a subsidiary not integrated with Gol, limiting potential for Gol to shoot ahead on its own.
Read more (open access): Gol outlook brightens as Brazilian yields start to show signs of improvement
Jetstar (#9) will likely overtake WestJet (#8) as the carrier continues to add capacity, including on long-haul flights. Virgin Australia (#10) will soon exit this list as it completes its transition to a full-service carrier, allowing AirAsia to assume the rank of tenth largest LCC in the world and further move its way up on the list.
Top 25 LCCs worldwide by capacity (ASKs/week): Dec-2010 vs Dec-2011*
|Airline||Dec-2010||Dec-2011||% change||Global rank||Ranking|
|Norwegian Air Shuttle||320,862,085||385,477,288||20.1%||15||14||+1|