It seems apt that two of the airlines to share a 25th anniversary with Airline Business this year embody two of the most significant developments on the airline landscape over the last quarter century. Irish carrier Ryanair launched flights in July 1985, and would later reinvent itself to bring Southwest Airlines' low-cost model to Europe. Middle East giant Emirates took its first steps in October 1985. Neither has looked back since.

Emirates has transformed Dubai into a major hub, broken order book records and, with a huge backlog of A380s still to come, it is still only just beginning. It generated revenues of $11.6 billion for its 2009-10 financial year, placing it number 11 in the latest Airline Business World Airline Rankings, and the sixth largest by RPKs.

And Emirates is not alone. Its Gulf counterpart Qatar Airways was revamped in 1997 and has been expanding fast since Qatar dropped out of multinational-owned carrier Gulf Air. It now figures at number 35 in the world with revenues of $3.5 billion. Similarly, now in its seventh year of operations, Abu-Dhabi's Etihad had already revenues of more than $2.2 billion last year, putting it on the brink of joining the top 50 biggest carriers.

The growth in China is evident as three mainland carriers featured alongside Cathay Pacific in the top 25 airlines by revenue in 2009, while Beijing Capital Airport rose to become the third busiest airport in the world by passenger numbers. Just five years earlier, it had ranked at number 20.

Growth of carriers in the Middle East, Asia and Latin America - a region which boasted four of the top 10 carriers by net profit in 2009 - shows the shift in the geographical balance of power since 1985.

Ryanair is testament to the spread of the low-cost carrier model. Rapid growth took hold after its transformation into a low-cost carrier and Michael O'Leary taking the helm in 1994. By 2009 Ryanair was the sixth largest airline in the world by passenger numbers, handling 65.3 million that year, with revenues of $4.2 billion which ranked it number 30 globally.

Such has been the growth of this model that low-cost or hybrid carriers now comprise six of the biggest 50 airlines by revenues, and more than one-fifth of the top 50 airlines by passengers. But while names such as easyJet, AirAsia and Gol have become fixtures in the sector and the model ever more established, this sector has also seen its share of failures, from the collapse of People Express in 1987 through to recent casualties, such as European operators Sterling Airlines and SkyEurope.

And notably many of the low-cost carriers spawned by network airlines in Europe and North America over the past decade to counter the burgeoning sector have been sold, collapsed or folded back into the mainline operation. Brands such as Go, Buzz, Centralwings, Song, Ted and Snowflake are among those to have bowed out from the low-cost frame.

Several moves to reinvent the model also hit the buffers. The glut of all-premium transatlantic carriers, led by EOS, Maxjet and Silverjet, fell by the wayside. At the other end of the spectrum, long-haul low-cost carriers such as Hong Kong's Oasis and Zoom also failed. But AirAsia X has made enough of a success in the market to be planning to separate from its parent and set up as a standalone operation, and others are also moving into the low-cost, long-haul space.

But it is not just new players that have come and gone. Many long-standing names have vanished, some disappearing altogether, others living on in different forms. Big US names such as Eastern Airlines, Pan American World Airlines and TWA have all departed, while others have disappeared, such as Sabena and Swissair in Europe, Venezuelan carrier Viasa, Ansett in Australia and Air Afrique. In some cases successors have risen from the ashes, while elsewhere brands like Alitalia and Olympic live on in private hands, having cut free from their past losses.

While some names have gone through mergers, these have largely been restricted to combinations within national boundaries. But even where brands remain, models of common ownership - under which individual brands continue to operate under a group structure - have become widespread. KLM, which spent much of the first half of the last decade trying to find its perfect partner, has been part of Air France since 2004. The likes of Swiss, bmi, Austrian are now under Lufthansa's banner, and BA and Iberia should complete their merger shortly. In the USA, Northwest is part of Delta, Continental has merged with United, while AirTran - itself a rebrand of ValueJet - will now be part of Southwest. And consolidation has also spread into Latin America of late.

These models have been established as, for all the progress of the last 25 years, there remains many obstacles to full cross-border consolidations. This also explains the prominence of the global alliances - which have over the past 12 months attracted more members than ever - and joint ventures. Tellingly, American and British Airways, having spent more than half the last 25 years arguing the case for anti-trust immunity, finally this year secured their long-sought approval.


  • Ryanair, Ireland (1985)
  • Emirates Airline, UAE (1985)
  • Shanghai Airlines, China (1985)
  • Air Europa, Spain (1985)
  • Air Transat, Canada (1988)
  • Asiana, Korea (1988)
  • Civil Aviation Administration of China's operating divisions are split into separate airlines, creating Air China and China Eastern Airlines, among others (1988)
  • China Southern Airlines, China (1989)
  • Transaero, Russia (1991)
  • EVA Air, Taiwan (1991)
  • S7 (then Siberian Airlines), Russia (1993)
  • Hainan Airlines, China (1993)
  • ValuJet Airlines, US (1993)
  • Jet Airways, India (1993)
  • Shenzhen Airlines, China (1993)
  • Qatar Airways, Qatar (1994)
  • EasyJet, UK (1995)
  • Westjet, Canada (1996)
  • JetBlue Airways, USA (2000)
  • Lion Airlines, Indonesia (2000)
  • Virgin Blue, Australia (2000)
  • Gol Transportes Aereos, Brazil (2001)
  • AirAsia, Malaysia (2001)
  • Etihad Airways, UAE (2003)
  • Jetstar Airways, Australia (2003)
  • Kingfisher Airlines, India (2005)

Based on carriers featuring in the Top 100 of the 2009 World Airline Rankings by traffic which have launched since 1985


  • US low-fare carrier PeopleExpress ceases operations (1987)
  • Eastern Airlines dissolved (1991)
  • Pan American dissolved (1991)
  • Venezuela's VIASA shut down (1997)
  • Australia's Ansett collapses (2001)
  • Belgium carrier Sabena declared bankrupt; successor emerges from Delta Air Transport and later rebrands as SN Brussels (2001)
  • Swissair collapses, successor operation developed from Crossair and relaunches as Swiss International Air Lines (2002)
  • African multi-national owned Air Afrique collapses (2002)
  • Nigeria Airways stops flights (2003)
  • Brazilian carrier VASP stops flights (2005)
  • EOS Airlines, Maxjet and Silverjet abandon premium transatlantic operations (2007-08)
  • UK carrier XL Airways ends flights (2008)
  • Danish budget carrier Sterling Airlines perishes (2008)
  • Budget long-haul carrier Oasis Hong Kong Airlines stops flights (2008)
  • SkyEurope suspends operations (2009)
  • Mexicana suspends flights, though it hopes to return and, with new investors, aims to relaunch flights before year-end (2010)


  • Delta Air Lines acquires Western Airlines (1987)
  • American Airlines acquires AirCal (1987)
  • British Airways takes over British Caledonian (1988)
  • Pacific Southwest Airlines ceases and is merged into USAir (1988)
  • Piedmont Airlines is merged into USAir (1989)
  • Australian Airlines and Qantas are merged (1992)
  • ValuJet Airlines ceases and merges into AirTran Airways (1997)
  • Air Canada takes over Canadian Airlines (2000)
  • American Airlines acquires what remained of TWA (2001)
  • Air France and KLM merge operations (2004)
  • Virgin Express and SN Brussels merge and later rebrand as Brussels Airlines (2005)
  • US Airways merger with America West (2005)
  • Varig collapses, successor carrier VRG Linhas Aereas later bought by Gol (2006)
  • Merger of Thomas Cook and MyTravel, followed by TUI and First Choice (2007)
  • Air India merges with Indian Airlines (2007)
  • Lufthansa completes acquisition of Swiss International Air Lines (2007)
  • Oman follows Qatar and Abu Dhabi in pulling out of multi-nationally owned Gulf Air, leaving Bahrain as sole owner (2007)
  • Delta merges with Northwest Airlines (2008)
  • New Alitalia created through assets of old operation and merger with Air One (2009)
  • Lufthansa acquires control of Austrian Airlines, bmi and Brussels Airlines (2009)
  • Barcelona carriers Clickair and Vueling merge under the latter's brand (2009)
  • Avianca and Grupo TACA to merge (2009)
  • British Airways and Iberia sign merger deal (2010)
  • United completes merger with Continental Airlines (2010)
  • LAN and TAM announce merger (2010)


  • KLM and Northwest Airlines start
  • transatlantic joint venture (1993)
  • American Airlines and BA file for anti-trust immunity (1996)
  • Star Alliance founded (1997)
  • Oneworld created (1999)
  • SkyTeam formed (2000)
  • European alliance grouping Qualiflyer disbands following the collapse of central
  • member Swissair (2002)
  • Four SkyTeam carriers secure anti-trust immunity in 2002. The pact is later widened to incorporate more airlines
  • US regulators give anti-trust approval to Star carriers' transatlantic joint venture (2009)
  • Raft of new joint venture pacts including trans-pacific and US-Canada flights (2010)
  • Oneworld carriers American/BA/Iberia transatlantic JV begins (2010)

Source: Airline Business