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Editor’s comment: Feeding the beast

LARA editor Mark Thomas summarises the latest happenings across the low-fare and regional aviation industry.

The long debate over a potential third runway at the UK’s London Heathrow Airport has now seen low-fare giant easyJet enter the fray, ahead of a government vote next month.

Opinions remain divided, but the airline itself points out what it sees as clear reasons why the capacity-constrained hub needs expansion, essentially so that low-cost carriers can utilise it fully and bring their competitive market forces into play against many of the more expensive legacy carriers that use it.

Despite total passenger numbers at the airport growing by 21% from 2000 to 2017 and flights across Europe as a whole rising by 91%, at Heathrow over the same period the number of domestic UK flight seats fell by 40% and European flights seats fell by 13%. The number of UK destinations served also fell from 14 to eight – that’s 200,000 less short-haul seats per week than in 2000.

It’s encouraging therefore for UK and European aviation connectivity as a whole that easyjet, which has such a powerful influence on the region’s low-fare market, specifically wants to engage with regional airports and governments to work out “which regions will enjoy the largest growth in passenger demand and economic benefits from new connections to Heathrow and the rest of the world.”

On a smaller scale, Irish carrier CityJet’s plans to add up to another seven Bombardier CRJ900s on lease to its fleet to further expand its wet lease operations is another signal that activity generally on European regional routes continues to remain firm. Two will be used as part of its current ACMI operations for SAS, with the other five to help it further expand its wet lease business.

Founder and executive chairman, Pat Byrne, confirmed: “We are talking to airlines all the time. This whole concept of the big legacy carriers wet leasing their regional routes is becoming a reality.”

The potential expansion of Heathrow and any eventual connections with regional and other hub destinations served by easyjet and many of the other smaller carriers like CityJet is another strong indication that feeding the insatiable appetite of the beast that is air traffic demand is undoubtedly a challenge – but also represents major opportunities for the low-fare and regional aviation sector.


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