Suddenly Surging: Why long-stagnant Orlando is now a hot market, attracting airlines from around the globe

As symbols go, Orlando would have a difficult time topping last week’s announcement that Emirates will fly there nonstop from Dubai. Nothing says an airport is on the global map quite like 7,754-mile flights from the world’s busiest airport for international service.

Orlando is now a hot marketSymbols, of course, can be deceiving. But not this one. If anything, to focus only on the Dubai flights is to miss a larger story: After a half decade during which Orlando was lucky to grow at all—and when any growth often lagged even the anemic U.S. average—Orlando is suddenly surging. As recently as last year, despite some interesting new routes (Oslo flights on Norwegian, for example), Orlando wasn’t much of an overall growth story. But this year? Only Seattle, among the 20 busiest U.S. airports, will add seats more quickly—Orlando’s 7% growth, according to an Airline Weekly analysis using Diio Mi, will easily outpace the 4% national average. And international seats? Those to Dubai will hardly be alone. Add new LAN service to Lima, TAM service to Brasilia and various other new routes—plus additional frequencies and equipment upgauges—and Orlando’s international seats will be up a robust 17% in 2015 compared to 2014. By this measure too, only Seattle, among large American airports, will grow more quickly.

Part of the Emirates analysis when selecting Orlando as its newest destination—only one other destination (Bali) made the cut for new service so far in 2015—was rather simple. Emirates codeshares with JetBlue. And what was the No. 1 final destination for Emirates passengers connecting onto JetBlue flights? That’s right: Orlando. JetBlue, for its part, rather unusually disclosed in its recent annual report that “Orlando was our most profitable focus city in 2014”—more profitable, in other words, than New York, Boston, Fort Lauderdale, Long Beach or San Juan. JetBlue flies nonstop between Orlando and 24 other airports, all at least daily.

What’s going on in Orlando?

Part of the answer involves favorable macroeconomic conditions, particularly low fuel prices. These tend to make leisure destinations relatively more attractive again, including for U.S. legacy airlines, which in recent years have shunned such markets. Sure enough, the U.S. Big Three American, United and Delta—after years of slashing Orlando capacity—are now participating in the growth there, even if they’re not exactly leading it: Big Three seats are up 3% this year, after a decade when they (including their pre-merger predecessors) had on more than one occasion collectively cut capacity by double digits in a single year. (Similarly, low fuel prices surely help explain a bullish February traffic report released by Las Vegas last week; Orlando hasn’t yet finalized…

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Also Inside this Issue:

Lufthansa begins the new week mourning the loss of 149 crew and passengers and dealing with the aftermath of the crash of Germanwings flight 9525. The disaster’s unusually heart-wrenching details have led to unusually prolonged global media scrutiny, leaving Lufthansa contemplating the fallout.

In China, the topic of the week was earnings, and the results were mostly positive. A slowing economy, a crackdown on wasteful travel spending and a more competitive landscape didn’t help. But cheaper fuel and still-buoyant demand sure did.

Demand for Air Berlin was anything but buoyant in 2014. But trends did improve late in the year, and the outlook is brighter for 2015. That’s perhaps a signal of more benign conditions for other European shorthaul airlines as well. easyJet is certainly thriving, as its latest earnings forecast makes clear.

Elsewhere in Europe, TAP Portugal reported its first loss in a half-decade, derailed by labor strife and weaker routes to Brazil and Africa. Back in China, meanwhile, Hainan Airlines is ordering more B787s, signaling an intent to maintain its aggressive international ambitions.

It’s hard to mention aggressive ambitions without thinking Norwegian, which started flying shorthaul from Birmingham last week and plans to announce new longhaul routes this week.

The biggest longhaul route announcement last week, as discussed in the cover story above, comes courtesy of Emirates, which is flying all the way to Orlando. Wizz Air, on the other hand, is stopping many of its Ukraine flights and closing its Ukrainian subsidiary.

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