The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has published its latest ranking of the world’s airlines in terms of passengers carried and passenger kilometres flown on scheduled flights for the year 2008.
International and Domestic - Number of passengers
Based on number of passengers carried on scheduled flights in 2008 and considering International as well as Domestic traffic, US and Chinese companies seem to rule the world with Southwest Airlines taking number one. However, if we would count Delta and Northwest as one entity (they merged in 2008), they would claim the number one spot (seen in line 0 in the table below). It should be noticed that the fifth position in terms of passengers carried has been taken by a Chinese air company (China Southern Airlines) – which also signals the ongoing growth of the Chinese domestic air travel market.
International - Number of passengers
Looking at only International scheduled traffic in 2008 (excluding domestic), Ryanair has grown to be the largest International airline in the world. Mostly European airlines are included in this bucket, as most of their flights are international, even though the distances flown would in most cases match up with the US (or Chinese) Domestic flights. This just shows how strong the US airlines are on their domestic market and how weak they are on the international routes – in terms of number of passengers. It is interesting to note that Air France and KLM are a merged company since 2004, but operate their separate networks. Also interesting to see that 2 of the top 5 are low-cost carriers (Ryanair and easyJet). If we would consider European international flights as domestic (in terms of distance intra-European flights are similar in nature to the domestic flights within the US or China), none of the European airlines would make it in the top 5 – based on the number of passengers flown, even though Ryanair comes very close to fifth position China Southern.
International and Domestic - Passenger kilometres
When looking at passenger kilometres flown, it gives a slightly different view of the same results. Such a statistic shows us all airlines in terms of passenger kilometres flown (passengers*kilometers flown) and theoretically levels out the difference between the European International flights and the US Domestic flights for example – which produce similar numbers in terms of passenger kilometres. On the other hand, this gives a chance for airlines flying mostly longer routes with less passengers to move up the list. (E.g.: a Budapest-London flight is 1 passenger or rougly 1500 passenger kilometres, while a Paris-Rio de Janeiro flight is also counted as 1 passenger, but rougly 9400 passenger kilometres.)
It is interesting to see that this view is still ruled by the US airlines, and the only non-US in the list is the merged Air France – KLM group, taking the fourth position. We are missing Southwest Airlines from this table, as they do not fly long-haul and fly only a limited number of mid-haul international flights to Central America thus their average kilometers flown per passenger is much lower than those big American airlines that also fly long-haul routes. It is also a notable change that American Airlines (considered to be the largest airline company for years) is passed by the new Delta Airlines (merged with Northwest) by as much as 35%.
It will be interesting to see these numbers for 2009 in a few months – where Delta will most likely hold the number one spot for overall passenger numbers as well as passenger kilometers, but Lufthansa may move up a little bit if they start to publish their numbers together with Brussels Airlines and Austrian Airlines. We are also looking forward to the much talked about possible British Airways – Iberia tie up, which would produce an Air France – KLM like congolmerate that could fight for a top 5 position in terms of worldwide passenger kilometers – considering Iberia’s long flights between Europe and South America.