Low-cost carrier growth showed no sign of abating in 2014 as passenger numbers among the leading budget and leisure sector carrier increased almost 10% in 2014.

This year's Airline Business low-cost carrier survey, covering 100 leading airlines operating in the leisure sector handled 991 million passengers in 2014. This is 9.9% up on 2013 - which is also the same growth rate the leading low-cost carriers had in 2013.

The traffic survey this year has been expanded to include leading leisure carriers, reflecting the increased cross-over between the scheduled activities of leisure operators and low-cost operators.

Southwest, which fully integrated AirTran at the end of 2014 - three and a half years after first closing the deal to buy its budget rival - remains comfortably the largest carrier in the sector. It carried almost 136 million passengers in 2014, a 2% increase on the previous year.

LCC traffic top 10 Americas 2014

Revamped Ryanair closed the gap behind after returning to double-digit growth in 2014 after a period of relatively slow-growth, increasing passenger 11% to pass the 90 million mark. The growth reflects its return to fleet growth after a short hiatus as it began taking delivery of its new batch of Boeing 737-800s, as well as lifting load factor as a result of its changed booking practices.

LCC traffic top 10 Europe 2014

In contrast there was slower growth this year from some of the big southeast Asian low-cost giants, as AirAsia, Jetstar and Lion Air regrouped amid intense competition in the region.

LCC traffic top 10 Asia 2014

Of the passengers flown by the 100 leading airlines in the low-cost and leisure sector, European operators carried 38% of the passengers. Asia-Pacific airlines carried 27% and North American operators 23%.

LCC top 100 traffic regional split 2014

Revenues among leading low-cost sector operators jumped 7% last year compared with 2013, as figures for almost 50 carriers in the sector generated collective turnover of more than $90 billion.

Southwest Airlines, by far the largest low-cost sector carrier, grew revenues 5% to $18.6 billion in 2014. EasyJet grew revenues strongly $7.5 billion for its financial year ending September 2014, while Ryanair has just disclosed revenues up 4% to just over $7 billion for its year ending March 2015.

low-cost carrier top 20 by revenue 2014

Net profits covering more than 30 low-cost carriers in their most recent financial year were increased around $600 million to almost $3.6 billion last year.

Southwest Airlines, EasyJet, JetBlue and Ryanair led the way of those to disclose a net profit figure in 2014 with a combined net profit of $3.3 billion.

There were also strong profits in 2014 for North American low-cost operators WestJet and Spirit Airlines, while Virgin America built on its new-found profitability by increasing its surplus in 2014.

Brazilian carrier Gol continued to struggle at a net level in 2014 posting a $472 million loss, but did improve its operating profit during the year.

The Airline Business low-cost carrier survey records financial figures in US dollars for comparative purposes, but the last 12 months have seen sharp movements in the exchange rate for many currencies against the strong US dollar. This means the year-on-year comparison used in the financial rankings does include a more pronounced currency effect than usual. This in many cases is less favourable than the comparison in local currency.

Revenue and profit figures in local currency can be found in the financial section of the airline summaries on the Flightglobal dashboard

Source: Airline Business