Cleveland holds potential promise in the consolidated US market 

Cleveland Hopkins International airport has done a tremendous job since United Airlines stripped the city of its hub status around 2014 and its passenger numbers fell to 7.6 million. Now airport officials are predicting passenger levels could reach 10 million in 2019.

ULCCs have driven some of Cleveland’s passenger growth during the last couple of years. Combined, Frontier Airlines and Sprit Airlines represent nearly 30% of the airport’s ASKs.

CHART – United Airlines may have closed its hub, but remains the largest single carrier our of Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, albeit the low cost and ultra low cost carriers dominate in terms of total system available seat kilometres (ASKs) shareSource: CAPA – Centre for Aviation and OAG (data: w/c 26-Mar-2018)

Airport officials recently told Crain’s Cleveland business the airport’s passenger numbers could reach 10 million in 2019, a level the airport has not achieved since 2008. The airport is also welcoming new international service in May-2018 when both WOW air and Icelandair inaugurate service from Keflavik International Airport, serving Reykjavik and offering onward connections into Europe.

Cleveland is an example of an airport that perhaps offers hidden opportunities in a consolidated US market place. New service from Iceland, particularly from WOW air, offers low cost airlines serving the market an opportunity for codesharing. Spirit does not appear to have any significant interest in codesharing, but Frontier is attempting to forge a codeshare with Mexican ULCC Volairs. Indigo Partners owns Frontier and has a major stake in Volaris, and the two airlines both use the Navitaire reservations platform.

Although a codeshare with WOW air could create some complexity, WOW serves several destinations in Europe, and Iceland is an easy transit point. It would allow Spirit and Frontier to broaden their network scope as US majors turn up the competitive heat on those airlines.

CHART – Passenger numbers at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport dropped significantly in 2014, but it has subsequently recorded three successive year’s of annual growth at rates of 6.4% (2015), 4.0% (2016) and 8.5% (2017)Source: CAPA – Centre for Aviation and airport reports

Cleveland also has a similar catchment area to Raleigh-Durham, a market Delta Air Lines has added as a focus city to complement its US domestic hubs. Raleigh-Durham’s passenger levels were 11.8 million in 2017, and its passenger catchment area of six million is slightly above Cleveland’s catchment area of four million.

As the US market reaches a higher level of maturity with US majors largely focused on maximising connectivity at their hubs, markets like Cleveland hold promise for airlines looking to tap passenger demand from medium sized markets that have been caught in consolidation’s crosshairs.

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