Sleeping Giants: untapped aviation markets with the potential of a reawakening

Sleeping Giants: untapped aviation markets with the potential of a reawakening

The recovery in air travel demand continues to be strong and resilient in 2023, notwithstanding the resurgent economic headwinds, manifold current challenges such as high inflation rates or tight labor markets, and, along with this, high levels of uncertainty when looking ahead.

The rebound of global air passenger traffic is underpinned by the latest published recovery rates, measured in revenue passenger-kilometers (RPKs), which rebounded “to 85.9% of pre-pandemic levels [in the first quarter of 2023 vs Q1 2019], signaling a significant improvement from the previous year”.

While this is certainly encouraging news, we wanted to identify if there were still any “sleeping giants”: aviation markets that have not been considered yet by airlines to be put back into operation even though they have already been proven to generate PAX demand pre-COVID in 2019.

Using origin-destination demand data from our BEONTRA Route Forecasting solution, we created the following table summarizing the top 10 untapped aviation markets ranked by their PAX volume in the latest 12 months (April 2022 to March 2023). For this list of sleeping giants we only considered markets which are currently unserved but had at least one direct service in 2019.

In the following, we will take a closer look at three of the 10 outlined markets to better understand their respective market conditions, competitive situation and whether there are specific reasons for this delayed recovery; also, what the latest market trends are, e.g., in terms of any upcoming, already announced relaunches later in the year.

Sacramento (SMF) – Orlando (MCO)

The route Sacramento (SMF) – Orlando (MCO) leads the ranking with 115,000 passengers (bi-directional) in the latest 12 months and a current recovery rate of 72% compared to 2019.

This route was exclusively operated by Southwest Airlines with one daily non-stop service back in 2019. Currently, there is no carrier in sight planning to resume this service. Passengers currently travelling between these airports require at least one stop, for example in Denver (DEN) or Austin (AUS) when flying with Southwest or in Salt Lake City (SLF) when using Delta Air Lines.

When taking a closer look at the catchment area of Sacramento we see that United Airlines is offering double-daily and Alaska Airlines daily non-stop services to Orlando from San Francisco (SFO), which is 137 km away from Sacramento. The capacity on the SFO-MCO route is close to what the two airlines have offered pre-COVID in 2019.

Lahore (LHE) – Manchester (MAN)

The route Lahore (LHE) – Manchester (MAN) comes second with 104,000 passengers (bi-directional) in the latest 12 months, reflecting a sharp rebound with a current recovery rate of 104%, already exceeding pre-COVID levels. Due to the lack of a direct service, passengers currently need to travel with a stopover. Most travelers fly via the Middle East by the known ME3 carriers – Qatar Airways (via DOH), Emirates (via DXB), Etihad (via AUH) – as well as Saudia (via JED) and Turkish Airlines (via IST). 

In 2019, this route was exclusively operated by Pakistan International Airlines twice per week, but the service has not been resumed so far.

Sao Paolo (GRU) – Los Angeles (LAX)

Unlike the outlined routes above, the route Sao Paolo (GRU) – Los Angeles (LAX), which has had 96,000 passengers lately, will be resumed by LATAM Airlines in August 2023 with three weekly frequencies initially. It will also be one of the first routes of their Joint Venture with Delta.

This route was operated non-stop by American Airlines pre-COVID with almost the same monthly capacity of ~10,000 seats that will be offered by LATAM from August onwards, operating a Boeing 777-300.

The number of airlines offering connecting services between Sao Paolo – Los Angeles via another hub has steadily increased after the pandemic. LATAM’s new direct services will have to compete with several indirect flight options, for example, offered by United Airlines via Houston (IAH) or Chicago (ORD) and American Airlines via Miami (MIA) or Dallas (DFW).

It will be interesting to follow the ongoing recovery in air travel demand and observe which of the ‘sleeping giants’ we outlined in the above will be revived in the coming months apart from the Sao Paolo (GRU) – Los Angeles (LAX) route.

Riyadh Air takes the plunge into the Middle Eastern aviation shark tank

Riyadh Air takes the plunge into the Middle Eastern aviation shark tank

Since the announcement of Riyadh Air on 12 March 2023, the new airline is a hot topic within the travel and aviation industry. The airline will be operating from Riyadh Airport as its hub and aims to serve over 100 destinations around the world by 2030. This announcement prompted us to have a closer look at the already competitive situation in the Middle East and to draw up a comparison between some of the big players in the region. 

The map at the top visualizes the destinations of the flight schedule for June 2023 and highlights destinations served exclusively by one carrier. This makes it easier to identify the strategies the individual airlines pursue. 

When studying the map it becomes obvious that Etihad and Saudia seem to be positioned more in the conservative camp, serving the major hubs and regionally dominant airports. With Nagoya (NGO), Etihad claim exclusivity to only one destination. This statement also applies to Saudi Airlines, which have only one exclusive international destination in their portfolio, Lucknow (LKO) in India. This aside, Saudi Airlines focus on their domestic market, and partly on the markets in the neighboring countries (i.e., Sharm el-Sheikh (SSH) in Egypt). 

Considering the markets exclusively served by Qatar Airways, the network shows a strong focus on destinations in Southeast Europe, Turkey, the Caucasus, India and Africa. Secondary airports, such as Sarajevo Airport (SJJ)Belgrade Airport (BEG) or Sofia Airport (SOF) are also served, which strongly contributes to that regional densification. These are markets to which Emirates apparently do not claim any market share (which, however, could also be at least partly due to Emirate’s fleet comprising widebodies only). The markets that Emirates serve exclusively are exactly outside the “Qatar Airways corridor”. Not surprisingly, Emirates focus on the bigger airports in the respective countries and regions (i.e., Mexico City (MEX) in Central America, Buenos Aires (EZE) and Rio de Janeiro (GIG) in South America). 

With four major airlines, the Middle East including Saudi Arabia is already perfectly connected to the world. Not only are the major hubs served, but also niche markets. Riyadh Air’s mission is to “provide tourists from around the world the opportunity to visit Saudia Arabia’s cultural and natural attractions” – we are curious to see which strategy will be adopted to achieve this goal.

Europe’s Next Candidates for PLAY Airlines?

Europe’s Next Candidates for PLAY Airlines?

The unique location of its hub Keflavik Airport enables the Icelandic startup PLAY Airlines to connect Europe and North America with its A320 neo fleet. The recent announcements of many new PLAY routes have inspired us to take a closer look at PLAY’s hub schedule – we wanted to discover which European airports are in a geographical position to allow for transatlantic connectivity via Keflavik.

We therefore analysed the bank structure at PLAY’s hub in Keflavik. PLAY Airlines serves New York’s Stewart International Airport and four additional markets on the east coast of North America on a daily basis. During summer, transatlantic flights arrive at KEF between 04.20 AM and 5.00 AM and depart between 02.50 PM and 3.30 PM. The below illustration shows how the time window for a flight rotation between KEF and other European airports has been determined, considering a minimum connecting time of 45 minutes.


In order to connect from and to North America, a rotation must not leave KEF before 05.45 AM and must arrive back no later than 02.05 PM. This time window of eight hours and 20 minutes allows PLAY to reach European airports in a range of approximately 2,500 kilometers, which is the area we have marked in the map as the “high potential zone” (please refer to header image).

Airports in the high potential zone have the advantage that PLAY can establish a rotation between these airports and KEF on the same day. For example, KEF – BER (2,400 km) is currently the longest already served route in the high potential zone. As we can see from the below illustration, the flight schedule gives passengers the opportunity to connect from and to North America both ways.

Nonetheless, PLAY also serves routes outside the high potential zone. For example, KEF – PRG (2,700 km) is also served with a rotation on the same day. However, this rotation does not provide connectivity to the transatlantic destinations, unless travelers combine the trip with a stay in Iceland.

There are even significantly longer PLAY routes, such as KEF – ATH. However, due to the stage length of 4,200 kilometres, the plane arriving in Athens in the afternoon does not head back to KEF before the next day. This flight schedule has the advantage that it again provides transatlantic connectivity. On the other hand, the long ground time at ATH decreases aircraft utilization compared to shorter routes.

Those examples illustrate that airports in a 2,500 km radius from KEF have the highest potential to benefit from PLAY’s North American network.

Of course, geographic location alone does not make for a successful route launch. Airports using BEONTRA’s Route Forecasting solution can assess market size, yield, connectivity and more to determine the potential of a new route and to build an airline business case.

Find out more at

Machine Learning Helps Improve Baggage Handling Planning

Machine Learning Helps Improve Baggage Handling Planning

After years of steady passenger growth before 2020, and a natural strong focus on optimizing passenger movement, baggage handling systems have and will continue to be a major efficiency focus for airports. With peak demand reaching, and in some cases exceeding, 2019 levels, airports will be seeking ways to mitigate the challenges in baggage handling processes.

Baggage handling systems vary in design and throughput capacity. With increased flights and passenger volume over the years, airports are finding that their existing baggage handling systems reach capacity limits quickly and cannot keep up with current throughput demands.  There is a need to evaluate long-term development scenarios for baggage handling in the future.

Expanding a baggage handling system or building anew are both costly options. Hence, it is important to understand when capacity is likely to be reached, what effects changes in the process can have on throughput, and what can be done to leverage the existing infrastructure effectively for as long as possible.

Staff shortages are presenting additional challenges on baggage handling, such as screening stations and loading activities where properly trained staff are needed to effectively operate. Even though a good forecast and plan does not solve the staff shortage, it is crucial to be able to deploy the staff that is available more efficiently. An important prerequisite for this is to have an accurate baggage demand forecast that is updated regularly and accessible by stakeholders.

BEONTRA Solutions 

We have recently released a new feature as part of our Operational Forecasting solution. It is machine learning based prediction of expected baggage numbers.

  • View automatic prediction of future baggage numbers down to the single flight level
  • Analyze local, transfer and transit bag data aligned with passenger prediction
  • Gain access to key patterns, such as seasonality and special events

In addition, we have extended the flow modelling capabilities of our Terminal Capacity Management solution. All key facilities of the baggage handling system are included.

  • Access all passenger and checked baggage processes covered in one integrated model
  • Enjoy modelling capabilities for baggage processes in local arrival (e.g. reclaim hall processes) and departure flows (e.g. checked baggage screening, early bag storage, make-up areas), as well as transfer flows to depict the complexity of the terminal setup
  • Get an understanding of baggage distributions and peaks, as well as information and suggestions for optimal setup of staffed processes (e.g. number of 3rd level screening stations required to prevent bottlenecks)
  • View modelling options and capacity analysis for checked baggage screening, early baggage storage, transfer injection points, and baggage make up areas


If your focus is more short-term driven, all baggage forecasting, and flow modelling capabilities can be used as part of the Operational Terminal Awareness solution.

  • Include the latest available passenger and baggage information in the predictions
  • Show the effects of delays and changes in passenger and baggage numbers on your baggage flows to identify peaks and potential bottlenecks
  • Providing all baggage handling stakeholders with a single common source of information and support information sharing

Contact us or request a free demo to find out more about how BEONTRA can support your airport.

Flight cancellations are one of the main sources of deviations from what has been planned and forecasted in daily airport operations

Flight cancellations are one of the main sources of deviations from what has been planned and forecasted in daily airport operations

Flight cancellations are the dominating headlines in aviation news. Cancellation levels are nowhere close to the highs during the heights of COVID in 2020. Analysis shared in OAG’s recent webinar states that the percentage of cancelled flights is multiple percentage points above pre-COVID levels. As there is no quick solution in sight to resolve the omnipresent staff shortages, one of the main drivers of cancellations, these levels are here to stay – at least for a while.   

Cancellations are rarely known prior to creating security checkpoint staff plans or when preparing and planning the operations of other key areas in and around the terminal. Understanding which flights are more or less likely to be cancelled is critical, as is knowing how to best allocate available staff.  Gaining insight into flight cancellation patterns and trends will help to create more timely, accurate planning, and prevent, or at least minimize, disruptions for passengers. 

BEONTRA Solutions 

To help airports figure out patterns and identify flights that are most likely to be cancelled, we offer machine learning based cancellation probability and status predictions. This feature is available in our Operational Forecasting solution. The algorithms identify and learn from patterns in the past and use that data to predict cancellation probabilities for flights in the future, helping save time and create more accurate operational forecasts.  


Analysts have the flexibility set thresholds based on which flight should be considered as cancelled or scheduled. For example, flights with a predicted cancellation probability of more than 50% can be set as cancelled. Then both the probability as well as the status classification of the respective flight event is used to analyze and visualize the predicted impact of each flight cancellation, and the corresponding onboard passengers. These insights can then be easily shared with stakeholders. 

We also have extended the flow modelling capabilities of our Terminal Capacity Management solution to make use of the status information.  Based on that data, it is easy to create what-if scenarios and predict and simulate passenger flows, both with and without the passengers of the flights expected to be cancelled.

Contact us or request a free demo to find out more about how BEONTRA can support your airport.