22 MAY 2017


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Article from BTNews 22 MAY 2017

COMMENT: Are these the World's top 20 airlines?

If you ever thought you didn’t know enough about the world’s airlines, help is now at hand thanks to the OAG organisation, whose Take-Off division has just produced a major report listing the essential metrics on the major carriers.

BTN happens to think that while it is a truly fine piece of research, typical of OAG, it is misleading. Do take a look.

We believe that available seat kilometres (ASKs) is a better measure of an airline’s passenger carrying capacity than just capacity. OAG does show the ASKs figures in “Take Off”. It is equal to the number of seats available multiplied by the number of miles. American Airlines is top whichever way you do it, United then becomes second and Delta, down a place to third. Ryanair is relegated to 13 from five, while BA jumps to eight when previously it was down at 15.

It is a fascinating document that rewards close study. OAG says: “We have created OAG Take-Off to provide all the facts and figures such as networks, number of routes served, number of countries served, on-time performance data and more.”

In a nutshell, the document lists all the facts on the airlines that qualify as the world’s top 20 based on 12 months’ seat capacity to February this year and other statistics such as load factors based on the year to October 2016.  Also listed in each case are number of routes served, number of countries served, net new routes, key airports, a network section and fleet data.

The entry for each airline also lists ownership, alliance membership, headquarters country, top routes, number of flights, average number of seats per aircraft, number of passengers carried, average load factor, average stage length and average flight time.

The quick answer to who comes out on top of the main table is American Airlines, whose seat capacity over the year is given – in the sort of detail that prevails throughout the report – as 250,762,625. Perhaps not surprisingly, Delta, Southwest and United in that order account for the next three places.

The big surprise comes next, with Ryanair taking fifth place with 126,503,181 available seats, well ahead of easyJet (82,644,804) at number nine and British Airways (61,978,149), way down at number 15. Aeroflot bottoms out the list at number 20 with 47,060,867 seats.

China Southern (115,763,222) and China Eastern (109,950,331) are up and coming at numbers six and seven before a big gap to number eight, which goes to Turkish Airlines (84,318,540) – still ahead of easyJet, which follows. Tellingly, Lufthansa, Air China, LATAM, Emirates and All Nippon Airways all come in over the next five places, all ahead of BA, Air Canada, Air France, Japan Airlines and Lion Air, in that order. 

American’s dominance of the skies is further illustrated in the associated statistics provided by the report, which shows the company operated 2,300,432 flights in the year under review, flew 47 new routes and recorded an average bookings load factor of 80%. On-time performance was 78.40%. 

OAG notes the airline serves 57 countries, but 83% of its capacity is in the US. Its top three routes are also there: LGA – ORD, JFK – LAX and LGA – MIA. It has 934 aircraft in its fleet and 285 on order, mostly narrow-body models. The average fleet age is 10.3 years, the youngest of the big US carriers but slightly below the average of the Top 20 carriers, which is 9.2 years.

OAG says it leverages the largest network of air travel data in the world to provide what it claims are “accurate, timely, actionable digital information and applications” to airlines, airports, government agencies and travel-related service companies.

This latest report lists similar statistics to those given for American for all 20 airlines under review. It is a commendable effort and a timely summary of the state of the industry and which players are the ones to watch.     

TOP AIRLINES BY ASKs (available seat kilometres in millions)

1.    443449    American Airlines
2.    412222    United Airlines
3.    404720    Delta Airlines
4.    359319    Emirates
5.    242106    South West Airlines
6.    186269    China Southern
7.    185102    Lufthansa
8.    183756    British Airways
9.    168779    Turkish Airlines
10.  163729    Air France
11.  159514    Air China
12.  158845    China Eastern
13.  154336    Ryanair
14.  151667    Air Canada
15.  132987    LATAM
16.  113706    Aeroflot
17.  105683    ANA
18.    90108    easyJet
19.    81701    Japan Airlines
20.    43701    Lion air

The OAG stats


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OUR READERS' FINEST WORDS (All times and dates are GMT)

All comments are filtered to exclude any excesses but the Editor does not have to agree with what is being said. 100 words maximum

David Rowell, United States

Another surprising omission - Qantas.

Tony Tyler, France

Any "Top 20" methodology that omits (maybe among others - I haven't checked) Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines clearly has something wrong with its methodology. Even without their subsidiaries (eg Silkair, Cathay Dragon) these carriers are much larger than some on this list.

David Bentley, Manchester/UK

OAG gets this data at the touch of a button which is why it is so precise. If you're going to measure 'top airlines' the best way surely will be a financial one (and not just 'revenues' either) rather than a capacity-based one, or at least one based on utilisation. You can have all the capacity and ASKs in the world, they're not use to you if they aren't being filled.