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Articles on the European Low Cost Airline Sector

East faces West in low cost skies over Europe

This article was originally written at the beginning of 2004 and has now been archived. Though correct at the time of publishing, the low cost airlines industry landscape in Europe has continued to develop and many references in the article may no longer be accurate. For example, the Austrian low cost airline company, Fairline went into receivership in June 2004 and no longer exists. Also, at the time of writing, companies such as vueling in Spain and Jet X in Italy had yet to emerge.

This article should be seen in the context of January 2004 when it was written.

While it's true that budget travellers can now fly almost the entire expanse of Europe on no-frills airlines, it's certainly not the case that every country has its own home grown budget carrier. One of the most notable trends to date is the emergence of a new low cost airline company in northwestern Europe and Scandinavia almost every month, while Mediterranean and Eastern Europe apparently lack sufficient entrepreneurialism to make the most of the boom in low cost air travel. [ Read more... ? ]

2004: Where next for low cost flights?

This article was originally written at the beginning of 2004 and has now been archived. Though correct at the time of publishing, the low cost airlines industry landscape in Europe has continued to develop and many references in the article may no longer be accurate. For example, in February 2004, easyJet began operating a service to Ljubljana and by the end of August 2004, both easyJet and RyanAir had announced they would commence regular no-frills flights from western Europe to the Baltic States.

This article should be seen in the context of January 2004 when it was written.

The reach of European no frills airline networks has mushroomed over the last eighteen months. As 2004 begins, it's probably easier to count the countries European low cost airlines don't yet serve instead of those which they do.

The Baltic States aren't yet served by any carrier which can realistically be defined as no-frills and neither are the more remote Eastern European countries like Belarus, Ukraine, or Moldova. [ Read more... ? ]

The rise of low cost airlines in Europe during 2003

2003 was a year of confidence and growth for the low cost airline industry in Europe. Iceland, Slovakia and Poland all saw the emergence of their first homegrown no frills airlines: Iceland Express, Sky Europe and Air Polonia. Airlines established in 2002 such as Volare Web in Italy, BasiqAir in the Netherlands and Flying Finn in Finland rose to challenge the old guard of UK, Irish and German budget airlines formed in the late nineties. Most significantly, in November, RyanAir became the first airline serving the UK to beat the passenger numbers of British Airways.

The increasingly successful challenge to the mainstream flag carriers by no-frills airlines has led to a rush of startups across Europe. Some contenders from 2003, such as LowFare Jet in Germany didn't even make it to the runway, while others such as FreshAer in Ireland and Aeris in France weren't flying for very long. The London Luton based airline, now, which originally intended to make its virgin flight in the summer of 2003 with a much heralded fixed price tariff is still waiting to launch, inspiring industry watchers to nickname the company never.

Despite the corporate casualties and a few delays, most companies which launched (or repackaged themselves - like British European in the UK which became flybe) in the last 18 months have consolidated their positions and look set to expand over the year ahead. Competition seems especially intense between Rhineland rivals Hapag-Lloyd Express and germanwings, though - for now at least - germanwings has the more comprehensive network. One of the newer airlines, BasiqAir in the Netherlands, has introduced eight new destinations to add to its original fourteen and will fly to the majority of its new destinations from Rotterdam airport. Meanwhile, Italy's Volare Web which already flies to Tirane in Albania and Bucharest in Romania is looking to expand its profile of central European destinations to include Krakow and Warsaw in Poland.

This last development points to a wider trend as no-frills networks continue to expand across Europe. Budget airlines which started operations flying mainly from northern Europe to charter flight destinations on the Mediterranean are now increasingly contributing to a comprehensive low cost network connecting all major cities across Europe. The old cities of central Europe such as Warsaw, Budapest, Bucharest and Bratislava - formerly isolated from the no-frills networks - can now be reached on low cost tickets courtesy of Volare Web, Sky Europe and Air Polonia. Moreover, the increase in companies offering no-frills flights has raised the competition bar giving passengers more choice and better deals. At the beginning of the year it was only possible to fly low-cost from London to Finland by taking two RyanAir flights, connecting at Stockholm Skavsta. Once Flying Finn launched a direct service from London to Helsinki, RyanAir was eventually forced to respond by introducing a new direct route from London Stansted to the Finnish city of Tampere.

As competition heats up on the eve of 2004 there are fewer low cost airlines which have the luxury of serving a unique destination. Secondary airports in France, Spain, Italy and the UK are crowded with competing budget airlines and only remoter areas of Europe - like the far north and the east - are now seeing lower levels of competition. The Slovakian startup, Sky Europe is still the only no frills airline serving Bratislava - though no longer the only low cost carrier in Central Europe. Meanwhile, Iceland Express is proving a stable and cheaper alternative to fly from Copenhagen or London Stansted to Reykjavik. But the key question for 2004 must be how many more no frills airlines can begin operations before the older and bigger fish like RyanAir, easyJet and Air Berlin start the next round of takeovers?

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