WORLD ROUTES: US Sees Another Rise In International Airline Frequencies

The past decade has seen international flights increase their share of total U.S. airline movements, according to aviation intelligence provider, OAG. The company’s OAG’s FACTS (Frequency and Capacity Trend Statistics) report for October 2013 reveals a 13 per cent increase in international frequencies to and from the US compared to October 2004.

In contrast, domestic movements show a decline of 18 per cent over the same period. Total US frequencies for October 2013 are 814,034, down 15 per cent from October 2004. As a consequence, international routes now represent 14 per cent of all US flights, up from 10 per cent a decade ago, while domestic movements now comprise 86 per cent, down from 90 per cent in 2004.

“The US domestic market has reduced considerably in size over the past decade, although the rate of decline has slowed in recent years. The number of domestic flights in October 2013 is only one per cent below October 2012, but US international frequencies continue to grow, rising one per cent in the same period,” said John Grant, executive vice president, OAG.

Total US seat capacity in October 2013 shows a one per cent year-on-year increase, which follows a similar one per cent rise between October 2011 and October 2012. The growth in October 2013 reflects an increase in international seat numbers, while domestic seat capacity remains static. International routes now account for 21 per cent of total seat capacity (versus 14 per cent of total frequencies), reflecting the use of typically larger aircraft in international operations.

In the past decade, average aircraft sizes (as determined by the ratio of seats to frequencies) have increased for both international and domestic US markets. The average number of seats per movement for domestic flights is now 99, versus 92 in 2004, whereas the average seat capacity in international movements is now 165, compared to 158 in 2004.

OAG’s Schedules Analyser shows the impact of recent consolidation in the US market. In October 2013, 58 airlines will operate domestic services and 111 carriers will provide international services, with some overlap between the two groups. In contrast, just two years earlier, in October 2011, 66 airlines provided domestic air services while 120 carriers operated international routes.

The past two years have seen a strengthening of the top three carriers in both domestic and international US markets. In October 2011, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Continental Airlines – the top three US carriers with international operations – provided 34 per cent of US international seat capacity. In October 2013, following the merger of United and Continental, the top three carriers’ share of international seats has risen to 40 per cent. Similarly, the top three carriers have increased their market share of domestic US seat capacity to 58 per cent, up from 54 per cent in October 2011.

“The impact of consolidation is set to continue with the planned merger of American Airlines and US Airways. Not only will this deal create the world’s largest airline, it will also see US Airways’ capacity shift from Star Alliance to oneworld,” said Grant.

“As a result, oneworld will leapfrog its rivals, growing from the smallest airline alliance in the US to becoming the market leader. Based on October 2013 schedules, oneworld will see its market share rise from 15 per cent to 25 per cent, SkyTeam will continue to hold 22 per cent and Star Alliance will see its share fall from 31 per cent to 20 per cent,” he added.

Despite the consolidation among airlines, the fastest-growing airports in the US do not appear to be correlated with dominant airline positions. Twenty airports in the US will handle more than three million departing and arriving seats in October 2013. Those airports with the largest increases in seat capacity versus October 2012 are Los Angeles (LAX), Charlotte (CLT) and Seattle/Tacoma (SEA), with growth of 6.5 per cent, 5.9 per cent and 5.1 per cent, respectively. Of these airports, only Charlotte-Douglas Airport has a dominant hub carrier, where US Airways will operate 89 per cent of seat capacity.

Richard Maslen

Richard Maslen has travelled across the globe to report on developments in the aviation sector as airlines and airports have continued to evolve and…