Issue No. 708

Air Europa Challenges Iberia's Latin Dominance

What is Air Europa? As part of a privately-held Spanish tour operator, it doesn’t get much attention outside its home country. But its relative anonymity belies a quietly influential role in Europe’s evolving and consolidating airline industry.

The industry was certainly paying attention in the spring of 2017, when Ryanair, of all carriers, breaking with its longtime unilateral approach to network development, formed its first-ever airline partnership with... Air Europa. The Irish LCC thereupon began selling Air Europa’s longhaul flights on the website; later it began selling some Air Europa shorthaul flights too.

Last summer, Air Europa turned heads again, announcing a planned joint venture with fellow SkyTeam member Air France/ KLM. The two carriers are now working to finalize those plans. Why is a giant like Air France/ KLM interested in a little-known Spanish carrier with fewer than 50 planes? For the same reason Ryanair is: Air Europa’s powerful Latin American network.

If there’s one airline that’s all too familiar with Air Europa, it’s IAG’s Iberia. When British Airways decided to merge with Iberia at the start of this decade, it didn’t do so for access to Iberia’s chronically loss-making and dangerously LCC-exposed short-haul network. On the contrary, BA was enticed by Iberia’s industry-best Europe-to-Latin America network. That distinction holds true today, but with another airline fighting it tooth and nail.

That airline is Air Europa. Both carriers base their Latin America-facing operations in Madrid, one of Europe’s two geographically best-positioned hubs for Europe-Latin America connections—the other is Lisbon. More important are the historical, cultural, commercial and linguistic links between Spain and most of Latin America, generating lots of local traffic to go along with all the connecting traffic.

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