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Re: Airline Hub Benchmarking

Thu Oct 31, 2019 4:37 pm

DL747400 wrote:
I am in a big data coma.

I'm with you brother,I feel like I'm going into an info melt down.
Posts: 280
Joined: Thu Oct 25, 2007 9:59 pm

Re: Airline Hub Benchmarking

Thu Oct 31, 2019 6:28 pm

Thank you very much for these super interesting posts.

One question, in the HUB-curve graph, BRU is in the middle of the Medium Sized hubs group, why isn't it in the chapter of Medium Sized hubs (Part II)?

Thanks for sharing this info with us, you did a fantastic job!
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Joined: Fri Nov 23, 2018 8:36 pm

Re: Airline Hub Benchmarking

Thu Oct 31, 2019 10:09 pm

Great analysis. However, Southwest Airlines carries more domestic passengers than any of the Big 3 carriers. It is also a top 10 ranked airline in terms of fleet size, number of passengers flown, RPK's, or revenue. Excluding Southwest was a big miss in your analysis.
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Re: Airline Hub Benchmarking

Fri Nov 01, 2019 5:26 am

Very good analysis. I am patiently waiting for the next installment of this.
Topic Author
Posts: 255
Joined: Thu May 27, 2004 2:40 am

Re: Airline Hub Benchmarking

Fri Nov 01, 2019 6:14 am

sf260 wrote:
Thank you very much for these super interesting posts.

One question, in the HUB-curve graph, BRU is in the middle of the Medium Sized hubs group, why isn't it in the chapter of Medium Sized hubs (Part II)?

Thanks for sharing this info with us, you did a fantastic job!

Thanks a lot! Good observation. Like [email protected] or [email protected], [email protected] is on the overlap between Medium-sized and Niche. I took the liberty of not clustering the groups clinically mathematically, so I decided all three of them belong to the Niche hub - since they have a clear Niche (will be alluded to in Part IV).

MrPeanut wrote:
Great analysis. However, Southwest Airlines carries more domestic passengers than any of the Big 3 carriers. It is also a top 10 ranked airline in terms of fleet size, number of passengers flown, RPK's, or revenue. Excluding Southwest was a big miss in your analysis.

Thanks! Totally agree. To be fair, I did not exclude them - but I have not given them the attention they would have deserved. The reason is quite funny - my colourful wave-graphs are from the time before I did my proper analysis - and I simply did not do any Southwest hubs, because I did not have them on my radar as hubs. I simply had no idea they did that many connecting passengers. In Europe we are used to LCCs hardly doing any connections at all! For me, this is one big take away from my analysis.

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Re: Airline Hub Benchmarking

Fri Nov 01, 2019 10:27 am

Ok guys, this is going to be the final part for now. You and your feedback have inspired me to do some more stuff - let's see whether I find the time. I could imagine doing a part on multi-hub cities, comparing all hubs of multi-hub airlines etc. But now it is time for my personal favourites: Niche Hubs and Pure Connectors.

Part IV:

‘Niche Hubs’

- 35% - 60% connecting passengers share
- 3,000 - 20,000 daily connecting passengers

Members (22):

Americas (2):
- [email protected] (SEA)
- [email protected] (LIM)

Europe (12):
- [email protected] (ATH)
- Air [email protected] (MAD)
- Air [email protected] (BEG)
- [email protected] (RIX)
- [email protected] (MSQ)
- Brussels [email protected] (BRU)
- [email protected] (HEL)
- [email protected] (KEF)
- LOT [email protected] (WAW)
- [email protected] (CPH)
- TAP [email protected] (LIS)
- Ukraine Int’l [email protected] (KBP)

Africa (3):
- Kenya [email protected] (NBO)
- Royal Air [email protected] (CMN)
- South [email protected] (JNB)

Asia/Pacific (4):
- Kuwait [email protected] City (KWI)
- [email protected] (DXB)
- Royal [email protected] (AMM)
- [email protected] (CMB)


Above the ‘Small Hubs’ and left of the medium sized and large regular hubs is the group of the ‘Niche Hubs’ that are defined by a high percentage of connecting passengers with low numbers of total connecting passengers. Many of them cater for a very specific flow of traffic – a niche such as Europe - Western Africa (Royal Air Maroc at Casablanca), Europe-North America (Icelandair at Reykjavik), Europe-East-Asia (Finnair at Helsinki), Russia-Ukraine (Belavia at Minsk), or Europe-South America (Air Europa at Madrid). However, there is some overlap with the cluster of ‘Medium-sized Hubs’. The ‘Niche Hubs’ of Aegean at Athens, TAP Portugal at Lisbon, SAS at Copenhagen, or Brussels Airlines at Brussels would also qualify as medium-sized hubs but feature a clear niche in their traffic flows (Domestic Greece, Europe-South America, Europe-Scandinavia, and Europe-Africa respectively).

The group is very Euro-centric and hardly has any American members - very unusual for a selection of hubs. Irrespective of that I think that the Niche Hubs reveal an obvious shortcoming of my approach: you cannot correctly cluster a group that is as qualitatively defined as the Niche Hubs simply by connecting pax and percentage of connecting pax. There are In hindsight I find Niche Hubs in many of the other categories - [email protected] for example has a clear (and huge!) niche - especially as compared to all other North American hubs, even compared to [email protected] which is in the Niche Hubs cluster. Yet, you have to go for an approach and stick with it - and all other alternatives would have their own drawbacks, too.

Let's dive deeper into the Niche Hubs. I will first try to analyse the weight of the niches going through the hubs from largest to smallest. [email protected] has 28% of its connecting flows between Europe and South America - another 19% travel between Europe and Africa. Interestingly, the largest single flows are all non-South American, the likes of Paris-Dakar at 30 PPDEW (yes, like the famous Rally-Event), or Porto Luanda at 29 PPDEW top the list. Finnair's HEL hub has a similar niche with 53% of pax using it to fly from Europe to Asia. Not surprisingly, the top flows via HEL include Stockholm-Tokyo at 26 PPDEW, Seoul-Barcelona (26), or Frankfurt-Tokyo (23). Aegean's Athens hub is entire focused on connecting secondary Greek destinations to Europe. Flows between Greece and the large European economies all cater for around 10% of total connecting traffic (Greece-France 10%, Greece-Germany 9%, Greece-Italy 9% etc.). Domestic connecting traffic is surprisingly small at not even 4%. SAS' main hub at Danish Capital Copenhagen has its niche in connecting Scandinavia to the rest of Europe (53% of all connecting traffic). Thick flows include Hamburg-Oslo (21 PPDEW), Milan-Oslo (18), or Paris-Bergen (20). [email protected] completes the top 5 of Niche Hubs. 20% of connecting traffic via [email protected] goes to and from Africa - quite a significant niche, but not as large a proportion as is the South American specialisation of [email protected] or [email protected]'s Asian niche. Brussels is a very European hub - not surprisingly as the EU's Capital - with 58% of connections staying within Europe. The thickest flows, however, are roughly what we would expect: Mainly large European cities to Africa, such as Paris-Yaounde (34 PPDEW), Paris-Kinshasa (30), London-Entebbe (17), or Milan-Dakar (16). I cannot go through them all, but I will choose a few more I find particularly interesting. Royal Air Maroc's Casablanca hub has a 66% niche of connecting Europe to Africa, 90% of which is to and from Northern and Western Africa. Ukraine International Airlines' Kiev hub has very mixed flows, with the aforementioned New York to Tel Aviv being its thickest route at 26 PPDEW, followed by Prague-Almaty (17), Minsk-Beijing (15), and Chisinau-Tel Aviv (14). Next. the mothership of niche hubs, Icelandair's Reykjavik operation: it has a staggering 99.4% connecting traffic between Europe and North America, with Amsterdam-New York (30 PPDEW), Washington-London (26), or Paris-New York (26) leading the top city-pairs. Finally, an odd ‘Niche Hub’ is Delta’s relatively young hub at Seattle since it is the only North American Niche Hub and it is one of the ‘big three’ US network airlines. It could have qualified as a regular ‘Medium-sized Hub’ – yet, by US standards, it has quite a significant niche in its traffic pattern. 90% of connecting traffic is to and from North America – nothing unusual here. However, the remaining 10% are all intercontinental (not Central American or Caribbean) and only a fraction is transatlantic traffic while more than 9% of the total connecting traffic is to and from China, Hong Kong, South Korea, and Japan.

Three European Niche hubs in comparison: All three do not have a hub-wave pattern throughout the day like Zurich, Vienna or other mid-sized hubs have. All three rather have the typical morning and evening waves for domestic and European connections - and each has a specific wave for its respective niche. [email protected] (top) deals with all its long haul flying (Africa and North America, as well as India) before noon and integrates its long haul hub into the bank of European flights that bring in businessmen and women for morning meetings. [email protected] (centre) adds a clearly visible afternoon wave for its Asian niche - in fact it is the biggest wave of the day, mainly due to time-zones. [email protected] (bottom) has the least visible wave-structure, but one can make out three rolling waves throughout the day. South American traffic comes and goes in the hours before and after 9 a.m., African traffic uses the night time for flying, coming in in the early morning and going out around 8 in the evening.

‘Pure Connectors’

- Over 70% connecting passengers share
- 5,000 - 75,000 daily connecting passengers

Members (7):

Americas (2)
- [email protected] Salvador (SAL)
- [email protected] City (PTY)

Middle East (5)
- [email protected] Ababa (ADD)
- Etihad [email protected] Dhabi (AUH)
- Gulf [email protected] (BAH)
- Oman [email protected] (MCT)
- [email protected] (DOH)


In the top left corner are a very special breed of hubs I call ‘Pure Connectors’. The seven members of this group are defined by a very high share of connecting passengers and a relatively low number of absolute connecting passengers. Interestingly, this group of hubs has a very special base of hub cities, too. While all metros that host hubs combined have an average of 8.5 million inhabitants, those of the ‘Pure Connectors’ only have 1.8 million with six of seven below two million – only the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa inhibits double the average but is hardly a mega city at 3.7 million. In terms of passenger flows, this cluster is divided into two groups. Ethiopian Airline’s hub at Addis Ababa (7,943km average weighted passenger-distance), as well as the two Gulf-Carrier hubs of Abu Dhabi (Etihad, 9,555km) and Doha (Qatar Airways, 9,826km) are long-haul hubs while the other four members of this cluster only average nearly half that distance, around 4,500km. This regional sub-cluster of the ‘Pure Connectors’ consist of two very similar pairs that are direct competitors: Avianca’s San Salvador hub (3,585km) connects the two Americas using only narrow-body equipment while Copa’s Panama City hub (5,161km) does the same but on a much larger scale (around five times as many connecting passengers). Notably, both are Star Alliance hubs. The other pair consists of the two unaligned, secondary gulf hubs of Oman Air at Muscat (5,304km) and Gulf Air at Bahrain (3,979km). Both mainly connect the gulf region and the Indian Sub-Continent. While the two of them share the same absolute amount of connecting passengers to and from the gulf region, Oman Air carries nearly double the passengers to and from the Indian Sub-Continent and three times the number of passengers to and from Europe and Southeast Asia (thus the difference in average distance).

As for top flows, let's compare Doha and Abu Dhabi first. Throughout my analyses you have seen that even flows of 20 pax are quite thick - remember how [email protected] only has a handful of those? Doha and Abu Dhabi both have very think flows, and a lot of them: [email protected] has 40 thicker than 40 PPDEW, with Colombo-London (76 PPDEW), Colombo-Paris (75), and Paris-Phuket (70) leading the way. Etihad's main hub, on the other hand, has an epic flow (140 PPDEW) in Jeddah-Jakarta, connecting the largest Muslim metro Jakarta (30m +) to the gateway to Mecca. In another major flow (135 PPDEW), it connects Jeddah to Southern Indian Kozhikode. The Kozhikode region has a very large Muslim population of more than 37%. Star Alliance carrier Ethiopian connects mainly Asia to Africa at 54% of all pax. Top flows include Dubai-Abuja (39 PPDEW), Johannesburg-Mumbai (35), or Guangzhou-Lagos (26). Europe to Africa (18%) has more volume than inter-african traffic (17%). Finally, I will compare the two Central American Star Alliance hubs of [email protected] and [email protected] Both share a very similar business model (as stated above), but SAL is more focused on North America than PTY. Both have very thick flows as compared to - say - your average European hub. SAL has the likes of Managua-Los Angeles on top of the list (46 PPDEW), or Washington-Guatemala City (39). PTY has - remember, only on 737s (!) - even thicker flows. A cool 126 pax fly from Sao Paolo to Cancun every day, 110 from Guayaquil to New York. These hubs work very differently from those in the US or Europe.

The two main competitors of the all mighty [email protected] in comparison. Due to the similarities in business models, all three share the same three waves throughout the day (or should I say night). Qatar's Doha operation (top) is more brown-coloured that the others - more regional flying. Etihad's hub at Abu Dhabi (bottom) is by far the smallest, its waves do not role into one another. It is very visible how India-centric this hub is (orange destinations).

Copa's Panamy City hub has six very clinical waves that connect the Americas on narrow-body 737 equipment. Colours are very evenly split between all shades of red, purple, and pink for the different regions of America.

Ok guys, this is it. Feedback and discussion welcomed, as always.

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Re: Airline Hub Benchmarking

Sat Nov 09, 2019 5:52 pm

Thank you for this!
I just created an account to say this.

Do you plan to post more of this? It's extremely insightful!

Topic Author
Posts: 255
Joined: Thu May 27, 2004 2:40 am

Re: Airline Hub Benchmarking

Mon Nov 18, 2019 9:12 am

Hi Filippo! Thanks so much, what an honour! I do plan to do more, I cannot say when I will find the time, though. Posts like yours are very motivating, thanks for that! :)


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