Why KLM Is Winning Against BA CityFlyer At Southampton Airport

With Southampton Airport’s runway extension one step closer to happening, the airport is betting on more narrowbodies gracing its apron. What will the airport’s future be? More immediately, 11 international routes are coming this summer with BA CityFlyer, yet KLM’s single route to Amsterdam will be larger than all 11 put together.

Why KLM Is Winning Against BA CityFlyer At Southampton Airport
Could TUI have a base at or operate W flights from Southampton? The carrier will use Volotea this summer for its seasonal Palma service. Photo: Alan Wilson via Wikimedia.

The extension of Southampton’s runway has been recommended for approval by council officers. Back in 2018, Southampton – which was then the UK’s 18th-largest airport – planned to increase passengers from two to five million by 2037.

This was before both Flybe ended and coronavirus happened, but it’s crucial to develop for the future. The plan is to lengthen Southampton’s runway by 538 feet to 6,191 so that narrowbodies can more effectively use it, potentially paving the way for more based aircraft. However, some conditions attached to the recommended approval, including a limit on night flying, might be a hurdle.

Southampton airport
Southampton expects its runway to be extended to 6,191 feet. Photo: Getty Images

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Problems for based aircraft

It probably means no change to Southampton’s operating hours – which are already strict – running from 06:30 (07:30 on Sundays) to 22:30. This obviously wouldn’t be a problem for non-based airlines – easyJet already operates winter-seasonally to Geneva, for example, often by A320s – and perhaps operating on a ‘W’ pattern would prove attractive to TUI.

But it would clearly be problematic for any potential operators based at the airport, something nearby Bournemouth, which is open 24 hours a day every day and has a longer runway, doesn’t have to contend with.

However, a Flybe-style operator – international routes with low frequency, low capacity, summer-seasonal, and with high average fares, combining shorter and longer sectors – might be less affected, but it wouldn’t really need a longer runway for this.

flybe Dash 8 400
Flybe had up to 95% of Southampton’s seats. Photo: Getty Images.

But a strong opportunity

Many international routes have now been backfilled at Southampton, especially by BA CityFlyer, although various brand-new routes are beginning too. But because of coronavirus, and how BA CityFlyer will operate, capacity will still down very significantly this year.

Indeed, there is a strong opportunity for growth in this area of England – including new routes – with significant leakage to Heathrow and elsewhere.

Analysis by anna.aero showed that Flybe achieved a year-round average fare premium of 121% at Southampton versus Ryanair at Bournemouth, with the general profitability at both airports suggesting there is insufficient capacity in the region – even before coronavirus hit. Southampton will want to capitalize on this as it develops further.

easyJet A320
Southampton’s longer runway is to attract more narrowbodies. Photo: Laurent Errrera via Wikimedia.

flybe had over nine in ten seats

Southampton was flybe. In the past decade, the regional carrier had roughly nine in ten seats at the airport every year, with a high of 95% recorded in its last full year, 2019, OAG data shows. In that year, flybe had 32 routes. Manchester was its top route, followed by Jersey, Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Amsterdam.

Southampton development
Capacity is being brought back but is still, understandably, down greatly. Source: OAG Schedules Analyzer

All change this year

Southampton is scheduled to have 28 routes this year, with Guernsey, Manchester, Jersey, Amsterdam, and Edinburgh the top-five. 17 international routes will be available, with almost all – including new links to Florence, Mykonos, and Gibraltar – starting this May or June.

Southampton's 2021 route map
Southampton expects 28 routes this year, including some brand-new. Image: GCMap.

KLM’s sole route – obviously to Amsterdam – will have more capacity than all of BA CityFlyer’s 11 coming international routes combined. This is from virtually all of BA CityFlyer’s routes operating only on weekends, the result of how they’ll be scheduled and their purpose.

Having started in London City, BA CityFlyer’s aircraft will position into Southampton from Edinburgh and Berlin late Friday evening. After weekend summer leisure flying, they’ll depart on Sundays back to Edinburgh/Berlin before returning to London City and resuming their normal weekday duties.

How do you think Southampton will or should develop? Comment below!