The world is better connected – unique global city pairs flown rises 7.2% in 2017

This year airlines across the world connected a record number of cities, with unique city-pair connections exceeding 20,000 for the first time, according to latest data for the International Air Transport Association (IATA). The 7.2% year-on-year rise is the largest annual percentage increase in the number of city-pairs served since 2004 and represents a doubling of air services since 1996, when there were fewer than 10,000 city-pairs in operation.


Summary:

  • This year airlines across the world connected a record number of cities, with unique city-pair connections exceeding 20,000 for the first time.
  • The 7.2% year-on-year rise is the largest annual percentage increase in the number of city-pairs served since 2004
  • The number of unique city pairs flown by scheduled airlines has doubled in the past 20 years.
  • The Blue Swan Daily analysis highlights China and Spain as fastest growing major domestic and international markets by capacity in 2017. 

Nearly three-quarters of the net increase in connectivity between 2016 and 2017 came on city-pairs flown within Asia and in the highly-open European region. There were 603 new city pairs added in Asia this year, 376 within Europe, 79 with North America, 87 on other intra-regional routes and 205 on inter-regional routes. These 1,350 additional city pairs raises the annual total from 18,691 in 2016 to 20,041 in 2017.

IATA explains this increase has reflected the changing economic and industry landscape over time, and has been enabled partly by the new longer-range and more fuel-efficient aircraft replacing airlines’ existing fleet.

In a striking illustration of how the industry’s centre of gravity is shifting to the east, more city-pairs were added in the domestic China market in 2017 than within the whole of Europe combined. China accounted for 11.4% of all city-pairs globally this year, up from 5.5% a decade ago. In total 384 new city pairs were added within China. This compares with 61 in the United States of America (USA), currently the world’s largest aviation economy.

CHART – This year airlines across the world connected a record number of cities, with unique city-pair connections exceeding 20,000 for the first timeSource: IATA, SRS Analyzer

“Increased city-pair connectivity delivers a wide range of benefits to aviation’s customers as well as the broader economy,” says IATA. “Connecting cities directly cuts the cost of air transport by saving time for shippers and travellers; this plus cheaper fares has the same stimulatory effect on passenger demand as cuts in airfares. Meanwhile, more and cheaper city connections also boost trade in goods and services, as well as foreign direct investment and other important economic flows.”

The IATA definition of a city pair connection is one that sees scheduled services with more than one flight per week using aircraft with more than 20 seats. Note that city-pairs with multiple airports connections are counted as one e.g. London-New York so the number of unique route pairs is actually much higher.

Our The Blue Swan Daily research highlights that China will again be the fastest growing major global domestic market in terms of increased connectivity in 2017. Data from OAG Schedules Analyser shows the number of departure seats from the country will rise +14.1% in 2017, slightly ahead of the Indian (+13.7%) and Russian Federation (+13.6%) markets. Eight of the ten largest domestic markets will see capacity growth in 2017 – the exceptions are Brazil (-0.3%) and Australia (-0.2%) which record modest declines.

CHART – China, India and the Russian Federation are the major domestic markets that will are grown at the largest rates in 2017Source: The Blue Swan Daily and OAG

Looking outside of the ‘Top 10’ to all domestic markets larger in size than five million annual seats and notable double-digit growth will be recorded in domestic markets in Saudi Arabia (+21.3%), Kazakhstan (+17.7%), Chile (+15.4%), Portugal (+13.3%), Argentina (+12.2%) and the Philippines (+11.0%). But, the largest growth will be seen in the resurgent Iranian market with domestic capacity up almost a third year-on-year with a 29.0% rise in seats between 2016 and 2017.

Fast growing domestic markets in the one to ten million annual seats category include significant rises within the likes of Nepal (+67.7%) and Romania (+62.9%), as well as strong growth within Oman (+47.5%), Afghanistan (+39.7%), Kenya (+38.2%) and Belize (+30.6%). The largest decline will be seen in Venezuela where domestic capacity will be down (-26.0%), while double-digit declines will also be seen within Ecuador (-12.2%) and Trinidad and Tobago (-10.8%).

The Blue Swan Daily analysis of the fastest growing major international markets in 2017 may deliver a surprise to many people. The OAG schedule data shows that it is in fact Spain that will see the largest growth in international seats in 2017, up +8.3%, as changing travel patterns in Europe have, in particular, seen a rise in demand for inbound travel to Spain.

CHART – Spain will see the largest rise in international capacity in 2017 among the world’s largest international markets by departure seatsSource: The Blue Swan Daily and OAG

The second fastest growing major international market in terms of capacity is Japan (+7.2%), ahead of Thailand (+6.0%), Italy (+5.7%) and China (+5.5%). The United Arab Emirates (UAE) was the only ‘Top 10’ market to see a decline in outbound international seats, down (0.1%) due mainly to the political tensions in the region and the Qatar blockade which has ended all flights between the UAE and Doha.

Looking outside of the ‘Top 10’ to all domestic markets larger in size than ten million annual seats and notable double-digit growth will be recorded in the international markets in Vietnam (23.3%), the Russian Federation (+18.2%), Portugal (+15.1%), Poland (+15.0%), Indonesia (+12.7%), Malaysia (+11.4%), Morocco (+10.7%), Mexico (+10.2%). Five countries will become ten million international seat markets in 2017, including Ukraine, which will enjoy the fastest growth (+25.1%). The others comprise Romania (+18.2%), Israel (+18.0%), Kuwait (+10.4%) and Finland (+9.6%).

Fast growing international country markets in the five to ten million annual departures seats category include Iceland (+31.8%), Cuba (+26.2%), Cambodia (+24.1%) and Bulgaria (+23.4%), while in the one to five million annual departure seats category, high growth is being seen in Georgia (+37.8%), Bosnia and Herzegovina (+28.3%) and Moldova (24.3%).