Skies Wide Open: Why the world’s hottest airline markets are hot—and the not-so-hot ones are, well, not

And the winner is… Romania.

In 2017, no country—among the 50 largest airline markets worldwide—grew more in terms of airline capacity, measured by scheduled seat departures. Romania’s seat capacity increased an astounding 21% y/y last year, according to an analysis of Diio Mi schedule data, earning it the 2017 gold medal for growth. When the country gives its acceptance speech, it can thank Ryanair, Wizz Air and an expanding economy.

An eastern European country with explosive airline growth thanks to Ryanair, Wizz Air and a hot economy? The description applies just as much to Poland. Now the world’s 38th largest airline market, Poland saw its seat capacity rise by 17% last year, second most among the global top 50. Nearby Bulgaria, Czech Republic and Hungary don’t quite crack the top 50 list in terms of overall seat capacity. But their 25%, 14% and 10% growth rates, respectively, hammer home the point: Eastern Europe was hot in 2017.

But so, for that matter, was the far western edge of Europe. Ranking third among the top 50 was Portugal with 15% seat growth, likewise propelled by LCC rocket fuel. Neighboring Spain did well too with 8% growth. An honorable mention goes to Iceland, far too small to rank in the top 50 but deserving of praise for its blistering 20% growth.

And outside Europe? Of the eight countries in the top 50 with double-digit growth in 2017, three of these all-stars were BRIC countries: India (13%), China (12%) and Russia (11%). (Brazil, alas, was another story). India and China happen to be the most populous and second most populous countries on the planet, accounting for almost 40% of humanity. With 140m people, Russia’s no minnow either, although its story last year was more one of recovery following sharp contraction. Indian and Chinese growth has been steadier, underpinned by years of galloping economic growth.

The remaining two double digit growth markets were both in the Arab world, but they weren’t the U.A.E. or Qatar. Saudi Arabia emerged as the Gulf’s big winner last year, while Morocco bounced back from north Africa’s woes. Outside the top 50, Oman and Kuwait saw big gains.

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