In the global aviation market, we often talk about the largest, the longest and the busiest, measuring everything by size and growth. Yet the beauty of this market is its ability to connect the world - wherever you are. So we’ve crunched the data to identify some of the smaller markets in the world that often get little or no attention but are equally important.
Who is the smallest?
Montserrat, Leeward Islands “leads” the way with just 2,555 scheduled seats planned for 2023; putting that in context it’s just slightly more than one minute's worth of capacity in the United States. Next is St Helena, with 5,962 scheduled seats in 2023. The challenges of scheduled flights to St Helena and the new airport are well documented and make for some great YouTube stories. The project cost some £240 million which equates to £402 per seat operated, although of course, the airport will depreciate over many years.
Sadly, featuring in the list is Ukraine, which in more normal times (with nearly 15 million seats per annum) would be ranking in the global top 50 country markets. Maintaining any level of airline capacity in such small markets is challenging with many countries continuing to see declines against 2019. However, in the case of Christmas Island, Christmas looks to have come early with a 45% increase in capacity this year.
Limited But Crucial Connectivity
For these small country markets connectivity is vital, in most cases it’s not about growing networks but holding on to what services and connectivity already exists. For most countries in the table destination choice is limited to just one or two locations. From Niue, if you don’t want to travel via Auckland then there really isn’t much choice. While at least from the Cocos Islands Virgin Australia will take you to either Perth or Christmas Island, which is in turn only regularly connected to Perth; seems like Perth it is for most travellers then.
The limited destination choice highlights the vulnerability of such services, especially when (for many of these markets) the airline operating is a foreign carrier who perhaps requires significant commercial support to maintain year-round operations. In many cases, just one airline serves the market making such islands heavily dependent on the wider success and financial stability of that airline. Fortunately, with carriers such as Latam (Falkland Islands) and Virgin Australia (operating to the Cocos Islands) that risk is relatively low, but probably comes with a price.
Long Distances To Swim…
The geographic isolation of some of these markets means that there are limited alternative forms of transport. The occasional cruise ship drops by St Helena and the Falklands for instance, and Montserrat has a seasonal ferry service to Antigua, but for many locations sector lengths to major airports are extreme as the table below shows.
Incredibly Saint Pierre and Miquelon have a direct Paris service, with the local airline leasing a B737-700 from ASL Airlines to operate a monthly service and fly the 2,306NM sector, rather than use their one ATR for the sector with multiple stops en-route! Similarly, the Johannesburg – St Helena sector at 1,986 NM requires some careful planning and a close watch on the weather as conditions can change very quickly in the middle of the Atlantic.
For all these markets air service connectivity is crucial - the link to the outside world protected by all stakeholders working in partnerships with the airlines that maintain those services. They rarely grab the headlines; many people would struggle to place the locations on a map, and they certainly are not fashionable destinations. But they are still essential and make the world a much more interesting place.