The European airline industry is controlled by three main players – there’s the Lufthansa Group which not only owns the namesake airline but also SWISS, Austrian, Brussels Airlines and the low-cost carrier Eurowings. Then, there’s the Anglo-Spanish IAG Group that controls British Airways, Iberia, Aer Lingus, Vueling and the new-kid on the block, LEVEL. Finally, there’s the Franco-Dutch Air France-KLM Group, which also has Transavia, Hop! and the soon-to-be-closed Joon under its control.
As you can see, there’s been a lot of consolidation over the last few years and the three main players have been eyeing up smaller rivals to take over (or destroy). There have already been plenty of casualties with the likes of airberlin, Monarch, Primera Air and Privat Air all failing in recent times and 2019 will likely see the big three European airline groups vying for yet more market share – a takeover of Norwegian is surely still on the cards.
Don’t be surprised to see the market capitalisation of the three European heavyweights reach the same level as that seen in the United States within the next couple of years. And if 2018, is anything to go by, the Lufthansa Group is currently winning the race.
The German airline group carried some 142 million passengers last year with much of the growth coming from Lufthansa’s operations in Munich, as well as significant gains at SWISS in Zurich and Austrian Airlines in Vienna. The passenger total put the Lufthansa Group well ahead of second place rival, IAG who reported total passenger figures of nearly 113 million.
The Madrid-based IAG Group doesn’t report passenger figures by individual airline but instead publishes Revenue Passenger Kilometres – a measure of the number of kilometres flown by paying passengers. British Airways continued to lead IAG’s passenger traffic stats, but there were significant gains at all IAG airlines, notably Iberia and Aer Lingus.
Meanwhile, the Air France-KLM Group dropped to third place with 101.4 million passengers carried in 2018. That compared to 98.7 million the year before although figures were affected by widespread strike action at Air France last year as well the ‘Yellow Vest’ protests that affected ticket sales at the end of the year.
The Dutch KLM, which is by far the smaller airline between it and Air France, saw passenger numbers rise by 4.5% last year – that compared to a rather sluggish 0.4% growth at Air France.
What the next 12-months has in store will certainly be interesting. Lufthansa has already said it plans to slow growth this year as it adjusts to rising costs, while Air France-KLM will be looking forward to a better year having negotiated agreements with labour groups at both mainline airlines. The IAG Group meanwhile is facing the prospect of a messy Brexit later this year – that could either play havoc or have no effect whatsoever.
Then there’s the question of which airlines will survive and which ones will fall to the wayside. The struggling regional British carrier Flybe has already been snapped up by a consortium led by Virgin Atlantic, while speculation over the future of Norwegian isn’t likely to stop anytime soon.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.