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Average sector length of Europe’s major pan-European (U)LCCs between 2010 and 2021 analysed

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There are several ‘rules’ that have defined how Europe’s low-cost carriers operate. These include high aircraft utilisation and no night-stopping of crews. To satisfy both of these rules that has usually meant trying to operate three return flights (or six sectors) in a day, airport curfews permitting. As a result, you might imagine that the average sector lengths for these carriers would be similar. However, analysis of Cirium data between 2010 and 2021 for six of Europe’s (U)LCCs with Pan-European bases reveals that there are significant differences between the carriers.

The rankings of the carriers with regard to average sector length has remained almost unchanged with Transavia (the Dutch and the French parts combined) leading the way ahead of Wizz Air, Ryanair, easyJet and Vueling. For the first part of the period analysed Eurowings was last, but in recent years it has passed both Vueling and easyJet. Not surprisingly there is a significant correlation between sector length ranking and the number of domestic flights operated by the carriers. Transavia has only recently introduced its first domestic flights in France, while Wizz Air now has a growing number of domestic routes in Italy, having also (briefly) ventured into the Norwegian domestic market.

Average sector length for European ULCC

Conversely, Vueling operates many domestic routes in Spain and also a handful in Italy, while easyJet has domestic flights in France, Germany (though only two), Italy and the UK.

New routes typically longer than the average

As previously reported, Europe’s (U)LCCs accounted for a significant proportion of the over 2,000 new routes launched across the continent in 2021. A look at the average sector length of the new routes launched in 2021 for these six airlines (as well as Blue Air and Volotea) shows how this compares with the average sector length of all the airlines’ services in 2021. For six of the eight carriers, the average sector length of the new routes was longer than their network average. It should be noted that whereas the total network average sector length takes into account the relative frequency of each route, for the calculation for new routes this is not the case. Since longer sectors tend to have lower frequency, it might be expected that across a year new routes would have a longer average sector length than the (weighted) network average.

Eurowings had the longest average sector length for new routes. Out of the 54 new routes it started in 2021, exactly half were over 2,000 kilometres. These 27 new routes included routes from Germany to airports in the Greek islands, the Canary Islands, Armenia, Iceland, Lebanon, Madeira, Morocco, Russia, Sweden and Turkey.

Pan European ULCC sector length analysis

Transavia’s new routes were lower than its network average as a result of launching four routes with a sector length of under 500 kilometres (all from Montpellier to various airports in Corsica) and a total of 29 routes that had a sector length of less than 1,100 kilometres. Not surprisingly, 18 of these were domestic sectors. As a result, its 50-plus new routes had an average sector length of 1,360 kilometres, over 230 kilometres less than its network average.

Of the almost 40 new routes launched by Blue Air in 2021, 16 were under 1,000 kilometres, with 12 of them operating from either Bucharest or Milan LIN. Only four of its routes were over 2,000 kilometres, with the longest new route being an Iasi to Dublin service that started on 19 December.

Longest and shortest new routes in 2021

For all you avgeeks out there who may be interested in this sort of thing, the shortest and longest new routes, launched by each carrier in 2021, were as follows:

  • Blue Air: shortest Bucharest-Suceava (348km), longest Iasi-Dublin (2,483km)
  • easyJet: shortest Manchester-Isle of Man (175km), longest Bristol-Sharm El Sheikh (4,038km)
  • Eurowings: shortest Stuttgart-Graz (502km), longest Prague-Tenerife TFS (3,576km)
  • Ryanair: shortest Malaga-Tangier (166km), longest Madrid-Amman (3,660km)
  • Transavia: shortest Montpellier-Calvi (410km), longest Paris ORY-Boa Vista (4,284km)
  • Volotea: shortest Reus-Palma de Mallorca (220km), Lyon-Tenerife TFS (2,734km)
  • Vueling: shortest Florence-Olbia (352km), longest Gran Canaria-Copenhagen (3,803km)
  • Wizz Air: shortest Rome CIA-Olbia (275km), longest Katowice-Dubai (4,202km)

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