The World Has A New Busiest Airline Route

Here at Simple Flying, we’ve often reported on the rise of commercial aviation in Vietnam. That rise continues. The sector between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh is now the busiest airline route in the world. For the week ending 23 March, 212,699 passengers flew between the two Vietnamese cities. That was enough to make the route the world’s busiest.

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The route between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh is now the world’s busiest. Photo: Vietnam Airlines

Vietnam gets the jump on South Korea

The Centre for Aviation (CAPA) crunched OAG data to come up with the numbers. There are some significant differences between the latest data and what was going on 12 months ago. The sector between Seoul Gimpo and Jeju in South Korea had been the busiest route titleholder. It has dropped back to second spot with 212,286 passengers in the week ending 23 March 2020.

In raw numbers, the Vietnamese route pips the South Korean route by the slimmest of margins. What’s interesting is the jump in passengers in Vietnam and the fall in passengers in South Korea. For the week ending 25 March 2019, 197,714 passengers flew between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. That’s increased to 212,699 passengers now, a jump of 7.6%.

Three thousand plus kilometers to the northeast, numbers on the route between Seoul Gimpo and Jeju dropped from 241,586 for the week ending 25 March 2019 to 212,286 now. That’s a decrease of 13.1%.

Why the switch?

There are quite a few reasons for this switch. Yes, the current crisis in aviation is one reason. South Korea has been hit hard by it, whereas Vietnam has seemingly escaped the worst of it. But there is more to the switch in places than this.

Aviation in both South Korea and Vietnam has been on the ascent for several years now. But, whereas South Korea is a reasonably mature market, Vietnam is still growing. Growth in domestic capacity in South Korea is outpacing growth in a maturing domestic travel market. Growth in domestic capacity in Vietnam is better matched with growth in the still-developing domestic travel market.

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Seoul’s Gimpo Airport no longer hosts the world’s busiest route. Photo: Subway 06 via Wikimedia Commons.

Whether Vietnamese aviation can keep its new trophy when the current situation normalizes is open to debate. What’s more certain is that there is more long-term potential in the Vietnamese aviation market than there is in the South Korean aviation market.

The tussle for a top ten ranking

Besides the tussle for the top spot, there were quite a few shifts in the top ten across the 12-month period. We’ve already covered who has the first and second spots as of March. Coming third is the route between Tokyo Haneda and Fukuoka with 177,856 passengers in the week ending 23 March. Twelve months ago it was in fifth place with 193,965 passengers.

In fourth place now is the route between Tokyo Haneda and Sapporo with 174,432 passengers. Twelve months ago this route had the second spot with 213,764 passengers. Another route that’s jumped up the rankings in 2020 is the one between Delhi and Mumbai. It is now in fifth place with 157,111 passengers. In March 2019, it was in tenth spot with 133,573 passengers.

In sixth place, as of the week ending 23 March, is the route between Jeddah and Riyadh with 140,359 passengers. Twelve months ago this route was in ninth spot with 140,398 passengers. Sitting in the seventh spot now is the route between Sydney and Melbourne. 131,152 passengers flew this route in the week ending 23 March. In the equivalent March 2019 week, this route was in third place with 201,585 passengers.

Indonesia roars into the top ten list

In eighth spot now is a new entrant, the route between Jakarta and Surabaya with 130,281 passengers in the week ending 23 March. Last year, this route was not in the top ten list. Taking the ninth spot now is the route between Tokyo Haneda and Okinawa with 121,753 passengers. In the equivalent week in March 2019, this route was in eighth spot with 141,644 passengers.

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The route between Melbourne and Sydney has dropped from third to seventh place. Photo: Andrew Curran / Simple Flying

Rounding out the top ten list in March 2020 is another domestic Indonesian route, that between Jakarta and Makassar. 113,626 passengers flew this route in the week ending 23 March.

A few points, none of which are necessarily new. First, domestic traffic in Japan remains strong despite everything. It has three of the top ten routes. Second, Indonesia is rising fast. In March 2019, Indonesia had no routes in the top ten. Now it has two. Third, what you might call the emerging power economies of Asia, Indonesia, India, and Vietnam, are where the aviation action is at.

The biggest loser

Finally, who are the losers in 2020? No big surprises here. Last year, the route between Hong Kong and Taipei was in seventh place. It has fallen off a cliff and off the top ten list. Likewise, the route between Shanghai and Beijing was in the sixth spot in 2019. It too is off the list.

And while their new glamour route might quietly cheer airline bosses in Vietnam, the rankings don’t spell good news for the aviation industry overall. In the week ending 25 March 2019, a combined 1,776,391 passengers flew on the top ten routes. In the week ending 23 March, a combined 1,571,555 passengers flew on the top ten routes. That’s an 11.5% decrease and overall bad news for airlines and airline bosses everywhere.

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