Though it usually deals in metrics like the world’s busiest airline routes or the longest flights, Official Airline Guide (OAG) has now compiled and released the list of flights earning the most revenue worldwide, which provides a fascinating snapshot into the changing headwinds of the aviation industry.
OAG is an air travel information and intelligence agency that tracks data from the world’s airlines, airports, government agencies and air travel-related service companies.
OAG gathered data on airline revenues from April 2017-March 2018 to create a list of commercial flights earning the most revenue. The way it categorized flights was both by route and carrier, so though American Airlines, British Airways, Delta and Virgin Atlantic all fly from New York JFK to London Heathrow, only British Airways’ flight made it into the top 10 list based on the revenue it generated.
Here is the full list of the top 10 revenue-earning flights around the globe and how many dollars (rounded) each brought in over the course of a year.
- British Airways New York JFK to London Heathrow: $1.04 billion
- Qantas Airways Melbourne to Sydney, $855 million
- Emirates London Heathrow to Dubai, $819 million
- Singapore Airlines London Heathrow to Singapore, $710 million
- American Airlines Los Angeles LAX to New York JFK, $698 million
- United Airlines San Francisco to Newark, $688 million
- Cathay Pacific Airways Hong Kong to London Heathrow, $632 million
- Qatar Airways London Heathrow to Doha, $553 million
- Air Canada Vancouver to Toronto Pearson, $552 million
- Singapore Airlines Sydney to Singapore, $544 million
The World’s Highest-Earning Airline Route
There are a number of interesting things to note here. First, only one airline and route topped $1 billion in revenue: British Airways’ flagship service between its hub at London Heathrow and New York JFK. Perhaps that should be no surprise considering the airline flies about 15 daily non-stops in either direction between the two airports. The revenue earned here accounts for about 6% of the airline’s total in 2017 according to OAG.
However, its closest competitor on this particular route is Virgin Atlantic, which flies about a dozen daily frequencies between the two airports, but does not appear on this list at all. Also surprising, British Airways managed to pull off this list-topping route despite the fact that several other airlines offer multiple non-stop options between both these exact same airports as well as nearby ones such as Newark in the U.S. and Gatwick near London, showing just how much British Airways dominates this particular service.
London Heathrow Is The Highest-Earning Airport…By Far
The other notable pattern from the listings are that London Heathrow is a veritable revenue magnet as the origin or destination of half these routes, and being included in five of the top eight routes overall. Clearly London remains high as both a premier international destination as well as a stopover point between continents in order for this to be the case.
It also indicates that the top-earning flights in the world tend to be heavily trafficked business routes rather than to leisure destinations. Not only is the top-earning route overall between London and North America, but the airport also figures in two top-earning routes to Asia and the Middle East each.
No wonder there’s such a fierce debate ranging over whether the airport should and can construct a third runway. The airlines who already have slots are unsurprisingly protective of the potential money they can bring in by flying to the airport.
Revenue Per Hour
Though the overall earning is the primary metric here, OAG also provided another fascinating footnote: revenue per hour of flight. That shows the premium some passengers are paying to fly between cities, and the relative strength of airfares in particular markets. In those terms, Emirates’ flights between its hub in Dubai and London Heathrow are the top earners by a slight margin over the top two revenue generators overall, and a long shot over the flights that follow it in terms of overall earning.
Long-Haul Routes Trump Short-Hauls
Another interesting insight is that only a single short-haul flights makes the list: Qantas’s service between its hubs in Sydney and Melbourne. All the other flights are mid- to long-hauls ranging from about five hours to over 13 hours each.
By contrast, Qantas’s flight is just over an hour, though the fact that there are about three dozen frequencies on it per day is the reason why it generates so much money.
International Versus Domestic
As part of the above point, international flights make up a slight majority of the list, with six of the 10 slots, while domestic flights count for four of them: two within the U.S., one within Canada and one within Australia.
Of those, only the Australian flight between Melbourne and Sydney is a short-haul, while the others are transcontinental routes of between about four and six hours.
Follow The Money
All these findings signal that, despite the incursion of low-cost carriers into the airline marketplace on every continent, long-haul business travel remains the primary generator of revenue around the world. That’s probably partly thanks to the high fares airlines can charge business travelers to fly their premium cabins, but also because of the rate of traffic on these routes in particular. It will be interesting to see how Heathrow’s proposed expansion, if it comes to fruition, affects these findings, and whether downward pricing pressure from budget airlines will impact airline revenues across the board in the coming years.