What are the fastest-growing major airlines in the world?

Routesonline analyses the world’s fastest-growing major airlines by available capacity during the third quarter of 2017 and reveals the carriers that have added the largest volume of seats.

A near 200 percent surge in year-on-year seat capacity has positioned Tibet Airlines among the fastest-growing major airlines in the world during the third quarter of 2017, analysis by Routesonline has revealed.

The carrier, which is based at Lhasa Gonggar Airport and is part-owned by Air China, connects the autonomous region of Tibet with domestic cities including Shanghai and Beijing. 

According to figures from OAG, Tibet Airlines’ total available seat capacity grew by 198 percent to 1.4 million in the three months to the end of September 2017, compared with 470,000 seats during the same period a year ago. It operated 65 routes during the period, 18 more than during Q3 2016. 

Tibet Airlines commenced operations in 2010 and has a fully Airbus fleet of 15 A319s, six A320s and three A330s. Six of these aircraft (three A320s, two A319s and one A330) have been delivered within the past 12 months. 

In August 2017, the carrier expanded its route network with the launch of a Chengdu-Kathmandu service, operating four flights per week on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Other new routes in Q3 2017, compared with Q3 2016, include Changsha (CSX) – Mianyang (MIG) and Tianjin (TSN) – Xiahe (GXH).

Tibet Airlines’ top five routes by available capacity during Q3 2017:

The list of fastest-growing airlines was calculated by ranking the top 200 carriers in the world by capacity from July to September 2017, based on figures from OAG Schedules. This was then ordered by year-on-year percentage growth, with the top ten featured below. All of the top 200 had more than one million available seats during Q3 2017.

Elsewhere in the top ten, Lufthansa-owned point-to-point carrier Eurowings was second after increasing seat capacity by 177 percent to almost six million as it continued to integrate the operations of Germanwings. It was also able to expand capacity following a deal earlier this year to wet-lease 38 Airbus A320s from Air Berlin, the now insolvent German carrier.

Donghai Airlines, a full-service carrier based in Shenzhen, China, was the third fastest-growing airline by percentage capacity rise, while Austrian low-cost carrier NIKI was fourth after taking on Air Berlin's holiday routes, and Indonesian airline Wings Air completed the top five.

Top ten major airlines by percentage growth (Q3 207 vs Q3 2016):

Rank Airline 

Q3 2016


Q3 2017




1 Tibet Airlines 470127 1401342 198.1%
2 Eurowings 2157180 5978730 177.2%
3 Donghai Airlines 430560 1173356 172.5%
4 NIKI 1273460 3111024 144.3%
5 Wings Air 801884 1940688 142.0%
6 Guangxi Beibu Gulf Airlines 527968 1276026 141.7%
7 Scoot 1054810 2489747 136.0%
8 T'way Air 474458 1109990 133.9%
9 NAM Air 880464 1842100 109.2%
10 AirAsia India 700848 1374480 96.1%

Top ten airlines by total capacity increase (Q3 2017 vs Q3 2016):

When analysing the top 200 airlines in the world by capacity increase alone, Eurowings recorded the largest growth in the total number of available seats in Q3 2017 when compared with Q3 2016. The carrier added 3.8 million more seats during July-September 2017. 

Eurowings operated 303 routes during the period, compared with 118 in Q3 2016. The sharp increase came as the carrier continued to integrate the operations of Germanwings, with the number of routes operated by the latter dropping from 254 in Q3 2016 to 236 in Q3 2017 and its capacity falling from five million to 3.1 million available seats. 

Since the end of the third quarter, Lufthansa has agreed to buy Air Berlin’s Niki and LG Walter units and the group expects the deal to significantly expand its Eurowings operation once completed. Carsten Spohr, chairman of the executive board Lufthansa, said the group has a “great opportunity to take a decisive step forward with Eurowings in Europe".

Irish budget airline Ryanair was second in terms of year-on-year total capacity increase after adding more than 3.2 million seats. The rise came despite mass flight cancellations in September following a rota fiasco that led to pilot shortages. 

Rank  Airline

Q3 2016


Q3 2017




1 Eurowings 2157180 5978730 3821550
2 Ryanair 35180460 38435796 3255336
3 United Airlines 46739616 49111963 2372347
4 Southwest Airlines 49532964 51873349 2340385
5 Lion Air 11404461 13736501 2332040
6 Aeroflot Russian Airlines 12461113 14696793 2235680
7 China Eastern Airlines 28739773 30673426 1933653
8 Air China 20288480 22176596 1888116
9 Easyjet 23497800 25374108 1876308
10 NIKI 1273460 3111024 1837564

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