In the latest dispute between the ME3 and US3 during the CAPA conference in Las Vegas, the opinions on who won the debate differ. Looking to Europe, we see that the beliefs of the big European airline groups on government subsidies and traffic rights vary as well. The IAG Group with the legacy carriers British Airways and Iberia as an example left the Associations of European Airlines (AEA) to join the European Low Fares Airline Association (ELFAA), which supports the EU’s liberalization of air transport. AirBerlin and Alitalia have left the AEA as well. Moreover all of the above-mentioned have recently had investors from the ME.
On the other hand the remaining two big groups Air France/KLM and the Lufthansa Group remain in AEA, which has the goal to “ensure conditions for fair competition”, supporting the concerns of the US3. That said, let’s take a glance at what capacity the ME3 offer to the home countries of the big airline groups in Europe.
In the French and Dutch market, Emirates offers 21,739 seats per week which is almost 3.5 times as many seats as Etihad (6,489), which has the lowest share of the ME3 in these specific markets. Qatar(9,408) offers 50% more than Etihad with the same amount of frequencies but bigger Aircraft (Qatar A380 vs. Etihad A330/340 and B777). All together the ME3 serve three destinations with 89 flights per week, which corresponds to over 37,000 seats to and from France and the Netherlands. That is equivalent to over 71 Air France A380s or 90 B744 from KLM with a 100% load factor. Moreover looking into the future Qatar might soon fly to another two French cities according to this source. Emirates is also bullish on traffic prospects.
Looking at the “home countries” of the Lufthansa Group, the ME3 also offer more seats: Emirates by itself offers over 44,000 weekly seats to Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Belgium. Qatar (15,554 seats) offers slightly (14%) more seats than Etihad (13,640 seats). But Etihad probably has a bigger market share with its code shares with AirBerlin and Etihad Regional, which have the same home counties as the Lufthansa Group.
Obviously the ME3 offer more seats in the German/Swiss/Belgian market due to approximately 50% larger population size than the French and Dutch market. However, the ME3 offer 95% more seats to the Lufthansa Group’s “home market” than to the Air France/KLM group. The offered 73,630 seats correspond to more than 150 fully loaded A380s in Lufthansa’s layout.
That said it is quite obvious why the two remaining big groups in the AEA would like to see the ME3 confronted with a more restricted market access to the European Union. Additionally their hubs are less slot constraint than that of British Airways, which makes the market more easily accessible; another argument why the Air France/KLM and Lufthansa Group see the ME3 as a big threat.
Despite the outcome of the allegations of the US3 that ME3 get subsidiaries from their governments, it does have a negative touch to it and might damage the reputation of the ME3, even if the European Union decides to not negotiate new agreements. No airline is interested in having such negative headlines and the US3 are very smart in story in the news.
Meanwhile the silent winner has asserted itself: Turkish Airlines. The airline from the Bosporus serves more destinations, with more frequencies and more seats than any of the ME3. In fact they offer 15% more seats than Emirates. Flying to 30 airports within France, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Belgium, Turkish’s network is 2.5 times denser than its rivals (Emirates serves 12 destinations).
Additionally Turkish serves all EU hubs more frequently than the ME3. Turkish Airlines also profits from a growing home market and enjoys the benefits from a supportive government, which owns 49% of the airline.
In fact, it was the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdo?an, who put Dr. Temel Kotil in the role of CEO of Turkish Airlines. With Mr. Kotil also as president of the AEA, the winner and growing competitor for the Air France/KLM Group and Lufthansa Group is in the same organization and sitting on the same roundtable – but who knows for how long? Maybe we should be talking about an ME4.