Europe airline groups 2018 ranking: Lufthansa group still at the top


In 2018 Lufthansa Group retained the title of Europe's largest airline group by passenger numbers, with a 10.0% increase to 142 million passengers. Ryanair remained in second place among airline groups and remained the biggest individual airline brand in Europe, growing by 8.0% to 139 million passengers.

Jet2.com entered the ranking at number 19, pushing Air Europa into 20th and knocking Flybe out of the top 20 altogether. The UK LCC grew traffic by 32.7%, to 12.2 million passengers, and took the title of fastest growing among the top 20 groups.

IAG remained third, growing by 7.7% to 112.9 million passengers. Air France-KLM became only the fourth European airline group with more than 100 million passengers, growing by 2.8% to 101 million. The next four groups - easyJet (92 million passengers, up 13%), Turkish Airlines (75 million, up 9.5%), Aeroflot Group (56 million, up 11%) and Norwegian (37 million, up 12.7%) - also held their 2017 positions.

Wizz Air (with the second fastest growth, up by 19.6% to 34 million) jumped ahead of SAS (up 1.2%, to 30 million) into ninth place. The Scandinavian airline is in danger of falling out of the top 10, carrying just 100,000 passengers more than 11th placed Pegasus Airlines, which grew by 7.7%.

This report ranks Europe's top 20 airline groups by passenger numbers in 2018 and also includes a ranking of the top 20 individual airline brands.

  • Lufthansa Group retained its position as Europe's largest airline group in 2018, with a 10.0% increase in passenger numbers.
  • Ryanair remained the biggest individual airline brand in Europe, growing by 8.0% in 2018.
  • Jet2.com entered the top 20 airline groups, becoming the fastest growing among them with a 32.7% increase in traffic.
  • IAG remained the third largest airline group, growing by 7.7% in 2018.
  • Air France-KLM became the fourth European airline group to exceed 100 million passengers, growing by 2.8% to 101 million.
  • LCCs accounted for six of Europe's top 20 airline groups, with Ryanair being the largest individual airline brand.


Four airline groups exceed 100 million pax; nine have double digit growth

LCCs account for six of Europe's top 20 airline groups - one more than in 2017, thanks to Jet2.com's entry. As before, leisure groups account for a further two of the top 14.

The tour operator TUI Group does not publish its airline passenger numbers, but CAPA estimates that it carried approximately 23 million, retaining its number 12 ranking.

After a decline in 2017 and in spite of its being in administration through all of 2018, Alitalia then grew its passenger numbers by 0.9%, to more than 21 million.

Thomas Cook Group, the second tour operator in the top 20, carried 20 million airline passengers (year ended Sep-2018), keeping it in 14th place.

S7 Airlines Group moved up to 15th, with 16 million passengers (up 12%), just ahead of TAP Air Portugal, which slipped to 16th with slightly below 16 million passengers. TAP's 11% increase was its second year of double digit growth. Aegean Airlines Group stayed 17th, with an estimated 14 million (growth of 6%).

Finnair stayed in 18th place, with 13 million passengers, but its growth of 11.6% now takes it within one million of Aegean.

Europe's top 20 airline groups by passenger numbers: calendar 2018

Led by Flybe, 10 airlines sit just outside the top 20, LOT Polish being the fastest growing

In 2018 10 airlines/airline groups sat just outside the top 20 with passenger numbers in the range of 4 million to 10 million. The biggest, Flybe, carried 9.5 million passengers (year to Sep-2018). It grew passenger numbers by 2.6%, but fell out of the top 20 ranking for the year and reduced its capacity.

Most of the others are still following expansion paths.

Five of these grew at double digit rates in 2017, led by LOT Polish, with 27.5% growth to 8.8 million passengers. The Spanish LCC Volotea's passenger numbers grew by 36% to 6.6 million.

Three other rapidly growing Eastern/Central European airlines are also in this emerging group: the hybrid LCC airBaltic (growth of approximately 20% to more than 4 million passengers), Ukraine Airlines (15% growth to 8 million) and Ural Airlines (13% growth to 9 million).

UTair Aviation grew passenger numbers by 4.8% and Icelandair by 9.8%. The Romanian LCC Blue Air slowed its growth to 2.8% in 2018 after strong double digit rates in 2017, but carried an estimated 5 million passengers.

Virgin Atlantic has not yet reported passenger numbers but grew seat numbers by 5.1% after shrinking in 2017, and probably carried more than 5 million in 2018.

Virgin Atlantic is part of a consortium acquiring Flybe in 2019. Although Virgin will not control the UK regional airline on its own, both will operate under the single brand, Virgin Atlantic. Combing the 2018 passenger numbers of these two amounts to 15 million passengers, which would displace the Aegean Airlines Group at number 17.

European airline groups just outside the top 20 by passenger numbers calendar 2018

LCC subsidiaries are fastest growing airlines of Europe's leading groups

Most of the top seven groups have a range of individual airline brands, each telling a slightly different story.

The main engine of Lufthansa Group's 10.0% growth remained its point-to-point airlines division, which groups together Eurowings and Brussels Airlines. This segment grew passenger numbers by 18.0%, to 38.5 million.

The group no longer breaks out traffic for the two brands, but CAPA estimates around 28 million and slightly higher growth for Eurowings, with around 10million passengers for Brussels Airlines.

Among Lufthansa Group's network airlines, SWISS grew the fastest, with a 9.5% increase to 20.4 million passengers. Lufthansa remained the biggest brand, with 70.1 million passengers (up 6.5%), and Austrian carried 13.9 million (up 8.5%).

IAG has not reported the breakdown of its 2018 passenger numbers into its individual airlines, but CAPA estimates are shown in the graph below. The group's growth was 7.7%.

The highest passenger growth among IAG airlines is likely to have been achieved by the LCC Vueling, with growth estimated by CAPA at 16% (to an estimated 34 million passengers). British Airways remains the group's biggest airline, with approximately 47 million passengers. Estimated Iberia traffic is almost 20 million passengers and there were 11 million for Aer Lingus in 2018.

The Air France-KLM Group, which increased passenger numbers by only 2.8%, was the slowest growing among the big three legacy groups in 2018. Air France grew by just 0.4%, to 51.4 million.

KLM grew by 4.5%, to 34.2 million passengers, and Transavia again grew at the fastest rate, albeit at the relatively modest rate of 7.1% to 15.8 million.

Aeroflot Group airline was the only leading legacy group in Europe with double digit growth in 2018, increasing by 10.8% to 55.5 million passengers. Its LCC Pobeda led the growth, with an estimated increase of more than 50% to over 7 million passengers. Aeroflot itself grew by close to 9% and carried almost 36 million passengers.

The LCCs Ryanair and easyJet operate as single airline brands, each of which has more passengers than the individual airline brands of the other leading groups.

The same is broadly true of Turkish Airlines (some of its domestic traffic is carried by its subsidiary Anadolujet, which has its own livery but flies under the same TK code as Turkish and does not report separately).

Europe's top seven airline groups by passenger numbers and their subsidiary airlines: calendar 2018

Ryanair remains by far Europe's biggest individual airline

Ryanair remained the biggest individual airline brand by passenger numbers in 2017.

Ryanair carried nearly 47 million more passengers than the second placed easyJet (this difference is almost equal to the total number of passengers carried by sixth placed British Airways). Its total was almost double that of fourth ranked Lufthansa.

LCCs accounted for eight out of the top 20 airlines, including seven out of the top 14 and both of the top two.

Europe's top 20 individual airline brands by passenger numbers: calendar 2018

Lufthansa Group and Ryanair will continue to compete for title of Europe's top airline group

The Lufthansa Group widened the gap with Ryanair a little in 2018 with its growth of 10.0% outpacing Ryanair's 8.0%, thanks to the integration of some of airberlin's capacity in Germany and Ryanair's moderation of growth after its pilot rostering problems.

These two look likely to continue to jostle for the top spot among European airline groups in 2019 and for the foreseeable future, unless one of the chasing pack makes a significant acquisition. Unless IAG renews its interest in buying Norwegian (the combination of the two would have 150 million passengers and top the ranking), this seems unlikely.

More assured is Ryanair's continued leadership of the individual airline brand traffic ranking in Europe.

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