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German domestic air travel market only just over half the size it was pre-pandemic; LH Group has monopoly

German domestic air travel market only just over half the size it was pre-pandemic; LH Group has monopoly

One of the biggest mysteries of post-pandemic air travel in Europe has been the remarkably slow recovery of the German domestic market. According to passenger statistics at German airports published monthly by ADV, domestic passenger numbers started 2023 around 57% down on 2019. In both September and October that figure had improved somewhat but demand was still down 46% versus 2019.

German domestic air traffic recovery

16 significant domestic routes have been lost

A closer look at Cirium schedules data for March 2024 and March 2019 shows that across that five-year period 16 domestic routes, that operated at least daily in March 2019, have been lost. These are (weekly frequency and operator in March 2019 in brackets, as well as typical train journey time in January 2024 [source: Thetrainline.com]):

  • DüsseldorfStuttgart (30, Eurowings, 3h 25m)
  • MunichNuremberg (26, Lufthansa, 1h 10m)
  • DüsseldorfNuremberg (25, Eurowings, 3h 40m)
  • DüsseldorfLeipzig (25, Eurowings, 3h 40m)
  • StuttgartHannover (23, Eurowings, 5h 00m with at least one change)
  • HamburgNuremberg (22, Eurowings, 5h 05m)
  • Cologne BonnDresden (15, Eurowings, 5h 05m)
  • BerlinKarlsruhe/Baden-Baden (12, Eurowings, 5h 45m)
  • StuttgartDresden (12, Eurowings, 6h 15m with at least one change)
  • FrankfurtPaderborn/Lippstadt (12, Lufthansa, 3h 10m with at least one change)
  • BerlinNuremberg (11, Eurowings, 2h 45m)
  • Cologne BonnLeipzig (11, Eurowings, 4h 30m with at least one change)
  • HamburgFriedrichshafen (11, British Airways operated by SUN-Air, 8h 50m with at least one change)
  • StuttgartLeipzig (11, Eurowings, 4h 55m with at least one change)
  • DüsseldorfFriedrichshafen (10, British Airways operated by SUN-Air, 5h 20m with at least one change)
  • StuttgartMünster/Osnabrück (9, AIS Airlines, 4h 50m)

That leaves just 31 domestic routes in Germany that are operated at least daily this winter. Munich has 13 of them, Frankfurt 12 and the German capital, Berlin, just six. Hamburg has five, with Düsseldorf and Stuttgart having four each.

Elsewhere in Europe things are rather different. The 31 German routes compare with 63 in France, 76 in Italy, 94 in the UK and 97 in Spain. Those other major European countries all have the benefit of airports on land masses separate from the mainland of each country: Corsica in France; Sardinia and Sicily in Italy; Northern Ireland, Isle of Man and various Scottish islands in the UK; and the Balearic and Canary Islands in Spain.

Looking ahead, analysis of Cirium data shows the recovery rate for German domestic seat capacity in March 2024 (versus March 2019) to be just 50.4%. This is the lowest recovery rate of any European country that has a significant domestic air travel market. Even Romania, which saw the demise of a major domestic player in Blue Air, has a better recovery rate than Germany.

Domestic seat capacity recovery across Europe

Lufthansa’s main hub has highest recovery rate

A closer look at Germany’s top 15 airports for domestic flights reveals some significant differences with the recovery rate varying from just 27% at Nuremberg to 76% at Frankfurt. Lufthansa’s two hubs at Frankfurt and Munich rank first and fourth for recovery rate, showing that the carrier still needs its domestic flights to feed its medium and long-haul services. Apart from Lufthansa’s two hubs none of the other seven busiest domestic airports in 2019 has a recovery rate of more than 50%.

Prague Airport

Top 15 German airports for domestic flights

While most domestic markets have a significant amount of business traffic, Germany would appear to have a higher percentage than other major European markets. Lufthansa’s recent Q3 management presentation revealed that in July and August VFR, independent leisure and ‘touristic’ travel were basically back to 2019 levels. However, ‘corporate’ demand was just 54% recovered on continental routes and 62% recovered on intercontinental routes. The lack of significant, stimulatable leisure/VFR demand in the domestic market could also help explain the disappearance of both easyJet and Ryanair from the German domestic market.

Lufthansa Group now has virtual monopoly of domestic market

Pre-pandemic, easyJet accounted for around 10% of the domestic market having acquired many of airberlin’s German airport slots when that airline folded. easyJet has now withdrawn completely from the German domestic market having abandoned all its domestic routes post-pandemic with the exception of Berlin to Cologne/Bonn which it flew up to twice-daily between December 2021 and August 2022.

This leaves Lufthansa Group with an almost 100% monopoly in the domestic market. Comparing 2024 Q1 with 2019 Q1 reveals that Lufthansa’s domestic capacity is down 35% but that its lower-cost subsidiary Eurowings has reduced domestic seats by a massive 75%. As a result, Lufthansa now accounts for 82% of the market with Eurowings on 17%. Air Dolomiti (another Lufthansa subsidiary) offers flights between Frankfurt and Dresden, while DAT (formerly known as Danish Air Transport) connects Saarbrücken with both Berlin and Hamburg.

German domestic capacity 2019-2024

HAM-SCN

The reduction in air travel might be partly explained if the country’s high-speed rail network had seen some impressive developments post-pandemic. However, according to local news reports the network is under-staffed, consistently unprofitable and suffering from poor punctuality. So have German business people become huge adopters of Zoom and Teams post-pandemic or are they getting into their Audis, BMWs and Mercedes’ to dash ever more up and down the country’s fabled autobahns?

 

Münster/Osnabrück Airport