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Ryanair, EasyJet plan dozens of new routes by middle of 2007

Ryanair Holdings Plc and EasyJet Plc, Europe's two biggest budget airlines, said they will add dozens of routes by mid-July to widen market share in the region.

Ryanair plans to start 22 routes from its headquarters city of Dublin in the first half of this year, including two to Poland, and offer more flights on nine current routes, the airline said in a statement. Luton, England-based EasyJet said five new western European routes announced today will bring the total added by July 14 to 30. Discount airlines accounted for 24% of European carriers' capacity in 2006 compared with 15% in 2005, according to schedule publisher OAG Worldwide.

Network carriers including Air France-KLM Group, Deutsche Lufthansa AG and Austrian Airlines Group have responded in part by focusing on intercontinental routes that Ryanair and EasyJet don't serve. „It means increased pressure on medium-sized airlines,” with Austrian Airlines, Stockholm-based SAS Group and Italy's Alitalia SpA all struggling to generate profit in the past five years, Nicholas van den Brul, an analyst at Exane BNP Paribas, said today in an interview. As larger airlines including Air France, Lufthansa and British Airways Plc are „concentrating on the long-haul flights” to distinguish themselves from low-fare competitors, „there's increasing concentration on three big carriers and then a more open, low-cost market,” Van den Brul said.

Ryanair will start flying to Bydgoszcz and Gdansk, Poland, in May, from the Irish capital in May, the carrier said today. The airline said January 4 that it flew 40.5 million passengers in 2006, an increase of 21%. Routes announced by EasyJet today include London Gatwick to La Rochelle, France; Madrid to the Spanish Mediterranean island of Palma de Mallorca; Berlin to Venice, Italy, and Lisbon; and Geneva to Cagliari, Italy. EasyJet said yesterday that 2006 passenger numbers rose 11% to 33.7 million travelers. Shares of Ryanair gained as much as 12 cents, or 1.15, to €10.95 and were up 0.6% at €10.89 as of 12:03 p.m. in Dublin. EasyJet stock in London rose as much as 9.5 pence, or 1.5%, to 661 pence and was up 0.2% at 652.5 pence. (Bloomberg)