Things With Wings

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  • Ryanair's Change of Heart
    Posted by Andrew Compart 10:00 PM on Oct 07, 2010

    Ryanair CEO made a splash last month when he told Bloomberg his airline might start flying to a lot more major European airports, a shift from its long-standing strategy to fly almost exclusively to less-costly secondary airports. At the World Low-Cost Airlines conference in London last week, Ken O’Toole, Ryanair’s route development director, predicted the airline could be serving one or two more primary airports by this time next year. Ryanair does serve a handful of primary airports now, such as London Gatwick, Madrid-Barajas and just-added Barcelona El Prat, but mostly flies to secondary airports that provide it good rates and incentives (and often leaves if they stop).

    Why the shift? In the Bloomberg report, O'Leary cites a greater willingness by major airports to deal with the carrier, as well as the airline's cost-saving elimination of airport check-in last year (it is now online only). It also could lure more business travelers, who tend to pay more for tickets. On the latter, Ryanair would be following a trend: Low-cost carriers have been making a great effort to attract business travelers, which is why, for example, Southwest is now flying to New York LaGuardia, Boston Logan and Minneapolis-St. Paul and is seeking access to the world's busiest airport (Atlanta Hartsfield) with its proposed acquisition of AirTran.

    But at the low-cost carrier conference last week, aviation numbers-cruncher and analyzer Anna.Aero provided another potential reason: perhaps Ryanair is just running out of places to go given its growth needs and aircraft usage pattern. Anna.Aero Editor Ralph Anker noted that the average frequency on Ryanair routes, as it has entered smaller markets, has dropped from 6.2 per week in September 2008 to 5 per week in September 2010, which is the lowest among all the LCCS Anna.Aero analyzed (easyJet, for comparison, is at 8.9). Ryanair now operates more than 250 routes with just one or two frequencies per week, he notes.

    The problem, Anker says, is that the lower an airline's frequencies, the more routes it needs to add to make use of each aircraft added to its fleet. At its current rate, Ryanair needs to open five new routes per aircraft. If its weekly frequency average drops to 3, it would need seven routes. Perhaps Ryanair is running out of low-frequency markets to add, he suggests. After all, in just two years ryanair's nework has grown by about 400 routes, from 629 to 1,028.

    You can see a lot more of Anna.Aero's low-cost carriers numbers and analysis from the conference here, including a link to the entire presentation. The numbers provide a lot of food for thought. Ryanair's route churn, for example, is dizzying: It actually has started about 550 new routes over the past two years, but dropped about 150. Also, take a look at Southwest: it has by far the average weekly frequency and does not operate any route less than daily, which is probably going to change if it sticks with its stated plan to keep AirTran's 717s.

    Tags: tw99, Ryanair

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