May 20, 2019 | DLR Low Cost Monitor

A record number of flight connections and falling prices

  • The number of European and intercontinental flight connections is once again rising to record levels.
  • A 10 percent increase in low-cost air traffic from Germany, to 5300 departures per week.
  • easyJet, Wizz and Ryanair are all expanding their route networks significantly.
  • The cost of flights is falling, despite rising oil prices and personnel costs.
  • Focus: Aviation, transport

Low-cost flights from Germany set a new record in the winter half-year 2018/2019. For the first time, there were 5325 low-cost airline flights per week, which represents a 10 percent increase from the previous year. The market has now almost settled down following the withdrawal of Air Berlin. Eurowings and Norwegian are increasingly focusing on low-cost destinations outside Europe. Consumer prices are falling again after a moderate rise in the previous year. At the same time, the Europe-wide market for low-cost airline tickets once again recorded a significant seven percent increase. These results have now been published by the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) in its 'Low Cost Monitor 1/2019', a report issued every spring and autumn since 2006.

"This last winter half-year was a new record season for low-cost carriers flying from Germany," says Study Leader Peter Berster of the DLR Institute of Air Transport and Airport Research in Cologne. "It is now possible to fly to 699 destinations from Germany with low-cost airlines, compared to 642 routes the previous year." Ryanair now flies to almost 250 destinations from Germany, followed by Eurowings with 235, easyJet with 107 routes and Wizz with 83. Ryanair, easyJet and Wizz were able to significantly expand their route network last winter, with easyJet in particular benefiting from taking over additional former Air Berlin connections, with 21 new routes. "At first, the withdrawal of Air Berlin from the market resulted in a gap, but this has now been almost completely filled," continues Berster. In terms of market share, Eurowings continues to dominate, with 51.5 percent of low-cost flights. Eurowings took over a large number of Air Berlin routes alongside easyJet in the winter of 2017/2018. Behind Eurowings, Ryanair was responsible for 17.9 percent of flights offered last winter, and easyJet 16.5 percent.

Spain is just ahead of the UK in the top foreign destinations travelled to from Germany. Due to the great importance of the UK in the aviation sector, many airlines have established subsidiaries in the run-up to Brexit. The British company easyJet, for instance, has founded the subsidiary easyJet Europe in Austria, while non-British companies like Ryanair and Norwegian have positioned themselves in Great Britain with Ryanair UK and Norwegian UK respectively.

Prices fall despite rising cost pressures

Despite rising oil prices and the increasing personnel costs, the average gross prices charged by low-cost carriers for a one-way flight have fallen back to a range between 50 and 106 euro, following a price peak of 53 to 117 euro the previous year, so that prices are almost back to the level of 44 to 105 euro from two years ago. "The price-dampening effect of the takeover of Air Berlin routes by easyJet and Eurowings has now intensified," explains Berster. "In addition to increasing competition, Ryanair in particular has also had a bearing on this fall in prices due to its new hand luggage arrangements, whereby the cheapest fare now only includes a small piece of hand baggage, with a large item of cabin luggage having to be paid for separately." The price range given here summarises the average gross airfares for a representative sample of routes flown by Germany's most important low-cost airlines – Eurowings, Ryanair, easyJet and Wizz. The cheapest provider in spring 2019 is Wizz, with an average price of around 50 euro per ticket. This is followed by easyJet at 56 euro, Ryanair at 59 euro and Eurowings at 106 euro. The average prices given in the Low Cost Monitor are determined on the basis of different advance booking periods, from one day to three months.

Major German airports gain in importance

While in the past growth in low-cost airlines has predominantly taken place at smaller airports like Weeze and Hahn, Germany is now seeing a trend towards larger airports. At present, this is having a particular impact on the major airports of Düsseldorf and Berlin-Tegel, which have recorded a low-cost share of 42 percent and 48 percent respectively. With approximately 1000 departures per week, Düsseldorf now has the largest low-cost offering in Germany. easyJet's acquisition of Air Berlin’s former routes has played a significant role in this development, but Eurowings' expanded network is also having an effect. In Europe as a whole, Barcelona, Dublin and London Gatwick airports offer the most low-cost flights.

Ryanair and easyJet maintain their leading position in Europe

Across Europe, airlines are also continuing their expansion with low-cost offerings. "In this region, low-cost flights have seen a roughly seven percent increase compared with the winter timetable of the previous year," says Berster. "With over 9000 departures, the UK still has by far the most flights within this sector, followed by Spain and Germany." Ryanair continues to be Europe’s largest low-cost carrier. With 12,500 departures, the Irish airline offers over three times as many flights as Eurowings. The second-largest airline in Europe is easyJet, which offers a third fewer flights than Ryanair, but twice as many as Eurowings. Together, Ryanair and easyJet account for nearly 50 percent of all low-cost flights in Europe, with the market leader Ryanair currently responsible for 27 percent.

Expansion of long-haul routes

Low-cost long-haul routes have also seen strong growth – over 37 percent. Norwegian and Eurowings have been particularly active in this respect. While Norwegian operates from numerous major airports in Europe, Eurowings concentrates on Düsseldorf and Munich as its departure airports. The use of modern long-haul aircraft, such as the Boeing 787 and 737 MAX 8, with which Norwegian flies to North America, is currently leading to capacity shortages. Due to the ongoing grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX 8, Norwegian is missing important aircraft from its fleet, forcing it to rent expensive replacements. The use of the new Boeing 737 MAX 8 models means that fewer high-volume intercontinental routes can be offered from smaller airports, such as Edinburgh, Scotland to Newburgh, USA. For the first time, the Asian airline Scoot is offering connections between Europe and Singapore in its winter timetable.

Low-cost and traditional scheduled flights

Airlines often shape their low-cost offerings in very different ways. As a result, it is only possible to define a few differentiation criteria for the low-cost market segment, such as a low price and general availability or direct sales online. A trend towards mixed business models is becoming increasingly apparent among airlines. While Ryanair is operating more at major airports and attempting to attract premium customers through its add-on packages, charter carriers and established airlines are entering the low-cost airline market via subsidiaries or their own offerings. In Germany, Lufthansa has transferred its domestic and European flights to and from the hub airports of Frankfurt and Munich to its subsidiary Eurowings. The results of the study are based on data from a reference week in January 2019.

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Falk Dambowsky

Head of Media Relations, Editor
German Aerospace Center (DLR)
Corporate Communications
Linder Höhe, 51147 Cologne
Tel: +49 2203 601-3959

Peter Berster

German Aerospace Center (DLR)
Institute of Air Transport and Airport Research
Linder Höhe, 51147 Cologne