Kevin O'Toole/LONDON

MORE THAN TWO years after Europe signed up for liberalisation, the majority of the region's air routes remain dominated by traditional flag-carrier duopolies, according to the UK Civil Aviation Authority's latest progress report on the European single air market.

By the end of 1994, the CAA reports that on only 7% of international routes within Europe were being challenged by a third competitor. The figure is a marginal improvement over the 5% figure recorded at the end of 1992, just before the introduction of the European Commission's (EC's) Third Package.

The progress on ending domestic monopolies is little more advanced, with the number of routes being contested by more than one airline rising marginally, from 10% to 13% over the two years. The bulk of the increase came from the ending of domestic monopolies in Spain.

There are at least another 50 routes, and possibly as many as 100, which are dense enough to support competition from a new carrier, estimates the CAA.

CAA chairman Sir Christopher Chataway admits that the improvement is "far from dramatic", but believes that the region is nevertheless still on track for competition to take off as the market comes out of recession.

He points to the EC's "decisive" intervention in supporting the opening up of the French domestic market, which still had only one route contested by more than a single major operator at the end of 1994.

The CAA also highlights the emergence of competitors such as British Midland and Ryan Air on many of Europe's busiest routes. Their presence on these frequent routes has helped raise the number of international flights, which have more than one competitor to one-quarter of the European total.

The competition has also given London the lowest fully flexible fare rates of any European capital. At the other end, Frankfurt, Luxembourg and Vienna are the most expensive with fares at 25% or more above the London levels.

Source: Flight International