By Humphrey Carter EUROPE'S leading low cost airlines, in particular easyJet, are having to increase the size of their fleets and frequencies in order to keep up with demand for flights to the Balearics and Spain from Britain.

The low-cost airlines are still enjoying rapid growth on routes to Majorca, Ibiza and mainland Spain thanks to the boom in second-home owners and independent travellers.

This summer, easyJet witnessed a 46.6 percent increase in passenger numbers to Majorca and a 51.3 percent rise in passengers flying to Ibiza. The combined 2004 passenger target for the two islands is 970'000. Next year they expect to break the one million mark.

Spokesperson for easyJet Spain, Cristina Bernabe said yesterday that the huge success of low cost airlines, especially into Spain, is leading to the rapid demise of the charter airline sector.

She said that while charter traffic to Palma this year has fallen by five percent, in Malaga and Alicante, for example, charter movements have fallen by 16 and 14 percent respectively. Meanwhile easyJet has enjoyed continual growth to all Spanish destinations, in particular Bilbao where passenger figures have risen by 108 percent this summer alone. “Spain no longer holds any mysteries for the British, they don't need to come here on an organised package holiday. “They can just jump on a flight and nip over and, as we are finding more and more, second holiday home owners are now coming much more often. The option of flight frequencies is attracting an ever increasing number of people to either move to Spain or buy a second home here,” Bernabe said. “This summer in particular, we have seen the tour operators redirect their charter airlines to growing package holiday destinations such as Turkey, Egypt and Croatia, for example, where Britons are less likely to venture off on their own,” she added.

Over the past few years, easyJet has increased its operations to Majorca and Ibiza out of Gatwick and interestingly enough, Gatwick is this year the main UK feeder airport for Majorca.

The airline operates 12 flights a day to Palma from six UK airports, including the new service from Newcastle, plus Berlin and Dortmund, as well as daily flights to Ibiza from Stansted and Gatwick which have proved hugely popular.

EasyJet commands a 19 percent share of the London to Palma market while it is carrying nearly 30 percent of all British passengers flying to Ibiza, well up on its market share of 19 percent last year.

Its Spanish operation has grown by 23 percent this year and its overall passengers outlook for 2004 is expected to show a 16 percent increase, which should boost turnover to 1.580 million euros for 2004.