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Ryanair leads European LCCs' traffic gains in 2016

EasyJet and Ryanair have both disclosed strong jumps in traffic for December, underlining a year of rapid growth by Europe's low-cost sector carriers overall and at the Irish operator in particular.

Ryanair has been expanding rapidly since its major 2013 order for Boeing 737-800s brought to an end a brief hiatus in aircraft deliveries in late 2014. Flight Fleets Analyzer shows that the budget carrier took delivery of more than 50 new 737-800s during 2016.

This rapid expansion has delivered double-digit increases in passenger numbers. The airline, which had increased passengers numbers only 6% in 2014, grew 17% in 2015 in carrying 101 million passengers. This grew again by 15% to reach 117 million for the calendar year in 2016.

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Ryanair's growth in 2016 included a 20% jump in passenger numbers in December – above the full-year trend and marking a return to the growth enjoyed in the first quarter of the calendar year. The Irish carrier's more recent traffic growth has moderated to low double-digit figures.

The airline has in past years grounded extra aircraft during the peak winter months citing some leisure-based routes were unprofitable. But the company notes: "We currently have a fleet of over 360 Boeing 737 aircraft and winter grounding is now solely dictated by maintenance requirements."

It does not provide a load factor figure for the rolling year in its monthly traffic disclosures, but has reported passenger load factor increases of between one and five percentage points for every month in 2016. In December, load factor was up three percentage points – again marking a return to the higher load-factor increases reported in the early part of the calendar year.

EasyJet also reported a strong end of the calendar year, as its passenger figures for December jumped 15% to 5.6 million. That is well above its growth rate across 2016 of 6.6%.

This in part reflects the lower bookings in December 2015 – traffic grew less than 5% that month as demand in the key French market was hit following the terror attacks in Paris.

However, EasyJet also highlights passenger numbers up almost a quarter in December to Mediterranean beach destinations and 15% to key European cities.

The airline's load factors were more than three percentage points higher in December. This is well above trend for the year – load factor was fractionally down for the calendar year at 91.5%. Again, this in part reflects the tougher corresponding month – EasyJet load factor had fallen almost two percentage points in December 2015 in the wake of the Paris attacks.

Overall, EasyJet carried just under 75 million in the calendar year. Ryanair and EasyJet combined are nearing 200 million passengers annually.

Europe's other major low-cost carriers also reported double-digit passenger growth in 2016. Norwegian lifted passenger numbers 14% to almost 30 million in 2016, while Central European operator Wizz Air grew passenger numbers almost a fifth to just under 23 million passengers. Both increased load factor more than point – though they remain below the 90%-plus levels of EasyJet and Ryanair.

IAG carrier Vueling will report December traffic data on 9 January. It does not break out passenger numbers in its monthly statistics but Vueling – which carried almost 25 million passengers in 2015 – has been reporting passenger traffic in RPKs running 13% higher over the first 11 months of the calendar year.

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