Air Transport World

No more hiding places: low-fare airlines have achieved critical mass in many parts of the world and are infiltrating network carrier systems. (Competition).(Statistical Data Included)

The domestic penetration of low-cost scheduled airlines is panicking network carriers. Whether owing to jaw fires, less-hassled nonstops and airports, online purchasing ease or other factors, leisure and business travelers in the US, EU, Canada and Australia are choosing the lower-priced alternatives.

Recent data from Boeing show the impact. One might quibble with some inclusions and exclusions--America West might have been included--but the message is the same. In the US the group accounted for 15.4% of domestic ASKs and 19.3% of sears in May, within the EU 11% of ASKs and 11.4% of seats. Canada's only low-cost independent at the time, WestJet, flew 15.1% of ASKs and 19.6% of seats; Australia's Virgin Blue 12.4% of ASKs and 12.7% of seats.

The carriers' fleet share is significant too. Southwest, with 366 units, provides a hefty base. AirTran adds 66, Spirit and Frontier Airlines 30 each, JetBlue 36 by year end. Ryanair has 44 units and 100 on order. EasyJet and Go together equal 55 units and EasyJet has 40 on order. Others with growing fleets are Virgin Blue, 28; Brazil's Gol, 14, and WestJet, 28 with plans for 94 by 2008.

Together and for the models they fly, their world fleet share is roughly 11%. Boeing's 737/DC-9 families account for most of the units. Belatedly, Airbus is pushing to break that stranglehold. An Airbus marketer acknowledges, "We were late to recognize the low-cost sector... more conservative." Having scored big in its JetBlue victory--and gotten Frontier to switch from 737s--Airbus is eager for an easyJet order and will battle for all sales.

Funnily, now that low-cost scheduled carriers have earned long-in-coming respect, people are arguing over what to call them. Jim Craun of Eclat Consulting prefers calling them low-fire airlines. They can be "low-cost and low-fare but they can't be low-cost and high-fire because they won't attract the passengers. The big airlines will just match and offer more" even though they cannot afford it. Swiss CEO Andre Dose, who insists his carrier is low-cost, opts for the "no-frills" moniker. …

Log in to your account to read this article – and millions more.