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Industry trends, on the fly

on the fly: What is the largest airline market in the world?

June 27, 2022

London, Atlanta, New York, or Dubai? We look at which city drives the most air service.

Analytics on the fly

What is the largest airline market in the world?


What’s the world’s busiest airport? Atlanta is a common answer, which is correct based on the number of passengers handled, as well as total scheduled seat capacity. When measured by flight departures (for the 12-month period through June), the answer is Chicago O’Hare. If measured by available seat miles, the answer is then Dubai.

Perhaps a better question to ask is which city features the most air service? Atlanta has just one airport with scheduled passenger flights. By contrast, London has five: Heathrow (LHR), Gatwick (LGW), Stansted (STN), Luton (LTN), City (LCY) plus Southend (SEN). Sure enough, London was ranked as the world’s busiest airline market in the pre-Covid era, at least by seats and ASMs (New York with its three major airports ranked higher by flights).

While the pandemic was tough on London, New York benefitted from traffic from a large domestic market when many international markets were closed. As you can see from the graphic below, New York pulled ahead of London by ASMs in the 12 months through June. Not shown, however, is that during just the third quarter of this year (July- September), London is back in the lead (Diio by Cirium makes it easy to view data aggregated across multiple airports in a given city).

Why does London loom so large in commercial aviation? History matters. Trading links forged during the days of the British Empire remain relevant today, not least the U.K.’s links with the United States, a former colony. Other markets once part of the British Empire include India, Canada, Singapore, South Africa, and Australia, to name a few. London remains a leading international route from all these countries.

London now stands as a leading financial center, a big attraction for tourists, Britain’s capital and one of the wealthiest cities in the world. It also serves as a base for some of the industry’s most successful airlines, including British Airways, Ryanair, easyJet and Wizz Air. Less financially successful but still formidable is London-based Virgin Atlantic.

For foreign airlines like Emirates, Singapore Airlines, Air India and America’s Big Three (American, United and Delta), the London market is vital. Newcomers are now emerging, like JetBlue and India’s Vistara.

So, what is the largest airline market in the world? The best answer is London.

Source: Diio by Cirium

NEXT WEEK: Delhi vs. Mumbai – which is India’s top airport?

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