Regional operators in Europe are seeing slightly higher loads as they fly marginally longer sectors, according to the latest figures from the European Regions Airline Association (ERA). Comparing the first six months of this year with the same period last year, ERA noted that regionals traffic (passenger-miles) grew by 6 percent and capacity (available seat-miles) increased by 5.6 percent, for a small gain in passenger load factor (PLF).
But while the number of seats increased by 4.2 percent, passenger volume grew by only 3.7 percent, apparently suggesting a slight decline in PLF. ERA attributes this anomaly to the way its statistics are calculated, using some monthly figures and some covering the whole report period, according to infrastructure and environment manager Lorna Reader.
After positive gains in the first three months of this year, PLF trends in the second quarter were less strong, with two of the three months seeing lower loads than a year earlier. ERA has not yet reported performance during the July to September period, which last year was the best period for member airlines.
With growth in seat numbers exceeded by that in capacity, European regionals achieved a 1.3-percent gain in average sector length. ERA members have seen average sector length grow from about 370 km (230 miles) 20 years ago to around 560 km (350 miles) last year. The greater distances being flown are also reflected in a 2.5-percent increase in average flight time.
The group reports that about four member airlines in 10 saw zero or negative growth in passenger numbers in the May to June period, an improvement on the first calendar quarter, in which about 44 percent had experienced no increase (or a decrease). About 12 percent of ERA carriers saw an increase of more than 20 percent in passengers in the second quarter, although overall passenger growth for all members declined steadily during the period to almost zero in June.
The average size of the equipment employed on ERA members’ routes continues to grow, with aircraft accommodating about 76 passengers compared with the 35-seat capacity of typical aircraft in 1988.
While orders placed in the last two years or so suggest a trend toward increased use of turboprop power, there has not yet been any obvious change in the composition of the ERA fleet, which consists of more than 60 percent turbofan-powered airplanes.
On the business side, ERA reports that average revenue of about E100 per passenger in the first half represents a reduction of about 2.2 percent over a year ago. The number of employees per aircraft has increased slightly, up from 30 in 2005 to 34 now, while the number of passengers carried per employee remains stable at 2,150 per year.
At about 13 percent of total costs, the price of fuel has had a significant impact on ERA members, with airlines paying just over E800/block hour between April and June, or about 41 percent more than in 2007’s second calendar quarter.
Environmental impact has also risen, according to ERA statistics: although members burned less fuel last year than in 2006, this year airlines are apparently consuming up to 20 percent more than last year at about 8.5kg/100 revenue passenger-km (30 pounds per 100 revenue passenger-miles).