Charter flights: a segment in decline

3 August 2017

The ’charter‘ (or non-scheduled) market segment is the business of renting or providing an entire aircraft (i.e. chartering) as opposed to individual aircraft seats (i.e. purchasing a ticket through a traditional airline). After years of decline or transition to a low-cost, scheduled model, this segment represents only a small share of all flights. Spain and Germany were among the busiest countries for charter traffic in 2016. Yet, this segment accounted for just 2% of the total flights in the two countries. On the other hand, in countries like Bulgaria, charter remains very important for tourism.

The charter segment focuses mainly on flights operated by charter airlines with holiday destinations. These are usually reserved through tour operators (leisure travel groups such as TUI, Thomas Cook, etc.) as part of a package. That is why charter traffic is linked to and influenced by major tourist flows in Europe – in particular, North Europe and Russia flows to the Mediterranean (Spain, Turkey, etc.) and North-Africa (Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt).

Based on rules matching specific criteria, EUROCONTROL’s Statistics and Forecast Service (STATFOR) defines charter as non-scheduled commercial flights (i.e. with ICAO flight type ‘N’) not included in business aviation.

Charter flights' 10-year evolution

The number of charter flights has been declining over the past decade as shown by the graph below. In 2007, the segment’s share of all flights was 6%. Ten years later, there are only half as many charter flights. 

Graph showing the decline in total number of charter flights between 2007 and 2016.

There are many factors that have contributed to the slow-down of the charter segment, including Europe’s 2009 economic crisis, the collapse of the Russian ruble in 2014, the Arab Spring and the tensions between Russia and the European Union.

Furthermore, the low-cost segment has absorbed part of the charter segment market share in recent years as more people rely less on tourism agencies and plan their holidays on their own. In response, many former charter operators have started selling individual seats as part of their transition to operating low-cost, scheduled flights.

In 2016, charter flights experienced a significant decrease due to a fall in traffic between Turkey and the Russian Federation and between Egypt and the Russian Federation. The European tour operators’ travel advice for Turkey, because of the country’s political instability, has added to the negative impact. In addition, general security fears over terrorist attacks have had their toll on the decisions of holiday shoppers.

As for 2017, the trend indicates a slow recovery, likely related to the end of the Russian ban on charter flights to Turkey. There has been an average growth of 3% during the first half of 2017, in comparison with a decrease of 15% in 2016.

For more facts and figures about the charter sector, download our infographic.

Charter flight infographic

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