Journal of Transport Geography 28 (2013) 75–88
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Journal of Transport Geography
journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/jtrangeo
The geography of European low-cost airline networks: a contemporary analysis Frédéric Dobruszkes ⇑
Transport Studies Unit, School of Geography and the Environment, Oxford University, South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3QY, UK
a r t i c l e
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a b s t r a c t
Low-cost airlines (LCAs) have become essential actors supplying nationwide and continental air services. This paper focuses on the European case and investigates how the LCA spatial strategy has evolved since the last available comprehensive analysis in 2004. Using comprehensive data, the analysis is conducted at three levels: global, cities and networks. It shows that LCAs now represent 31% of intra-European airline seats. Although LCA business has expanded to Central-East Europe, Morocco, and a few remote areas, it remains mainly focused on the intra-Western market. In general, LCAs serve large cities and tourist destinations. The use of secondary, regional airports is put into perspective. Service volatility is low at the city level but signiﬁcant at the inter-city level. Average distance has increased, but most ﬂights are short-haul. LCAs play an important role in launching new routes, thus diversifying the European airline network, and in increasing frontal competition with traditional airlines on pre-existing routes. The niche markets are common in terms of routes but are rather limited in terms of seats supplied. Actually, the main speciﬁcity of the largest LCAs is the provision of ﬂights that do not serve the home country. A typology of networks demonstrates that there is no a single European low-cost model.
Ó 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Air transport is only one example of the various sectors in which industry leaders are facing increased competition from low-cost companies (Ryans, 2008). However, as Casey (2010, p. 176)
The current revolution that the advent of LCAT [Low Cost Air Travel] has ushered in (. . .) is one of the biggest revolutions in tourism and travel since the package holiday’s arrival half a century earlier.
Indeed, low-cost airlines (LCAs) have indisputably contributed to changing how people travel, the geography of air services and competition between airlines and between cities or regions. By taking advantage of air transport liberalisations, cutting costs as much as possible (see Vasigh et al., 2008) – notably through more intensive and ﬂexible use of planes and labour (Hunter, 2006) and receiving state aid as well as various incentives from local or regional authorities and/or from airports (Barbot, 2006; Graham and Shaw, 2008) – LCAs provide low-fare air services that have become more and more global; nowadays, they serve very different spaces
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and passengers. The original low-cost business built by Southwest Airlines in the US was a niche market focused on intra-Texas routes and secondary airports, inducing new trafﬁc through marketing that ‘‘ﬂying is fun’’1 rather than competing with other modes or with incumbent airlines (Doganis, 2006). Things have really changed. Southwest has expanded at the Sun Belt scale and to the US scale to become a nationwide carrier competing with legacy carriers and also serving conventional airports.
The LCA model started in Europe in 1995. Irish private airline Ryanair’s M. O’Leary visited Southwest in 1991 and then adapted its model a few years later (Creaton, 2005). easyJet was launched directly as an LCA in 1995 (Jones,...
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