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US airline yields and profits benefit from tight demand-supply conditions

18-Aug-2011

US airlines are continuing to benefit from relatively tight demand-supply conditions and the capacity caution is set to continue. The major US network airlines are now forecasting low single-digit capacity growth in FY2011, as high fuel prices and economic jitters pressure profits.

See related report: European airlines post healthy traffic gains in Jul-2010. Will the summer be strong enough?

Capacity growth in Jul-2011 among the major US airlines was generally limited to single-digits. There were, however, a few carriers reporting double-digit growth, including JetBlue, Spirit Airlines and the smaller regional carriers.

North American carriers’ domestic passenger capacity growth (% change year-on-year): Jul-2011

Different growth profile among network carriers and regionals and LCCs

Traffic (RPMs) growth among US carriers was generally limited in the single digits (with contractions at Delta and American) in Jul-2011, with the exception of Hawaiian Airlines (which grew 20%). Double-digit growth was reported by some regional carriers, such as Skywest Airlines and American Eagle, and at Spirit Airlines and JetBlue Airways in the LCC segment. (Spirit reported monthly traffic for the first time in Jul-2011. See Appendix for full list of Jul-2011 traffic results).

North American carriers’ traffic (RPMs) growth (%): Jul-2011

Load factors remain strong; averaging over 80%

Load factors were mixed in Jul-2011, with slightly more than half of the carriers reporting load factor growth. Allegiant Air (91.3%) and Spirit Airlines (90.0%) reported the best loads and the strongest load factor growth in the month of 5.0 ppts and 4.4 ppts, respectively. All but three carriers – American Eagle (78.2%), Horizon Air (80.9%) and Skywest Airlines (83.4%) – reported load factors above 85%.  

North American carriers’ load factors (%): Jul-2011

Unit revenue growth higher across the board

Unit passenger revenues were higher across the board in Jul-2011 among the carriers disclosing figures on a monthly basis.    

US airline unit revenue highlights (estimates): Jul-2011

 

PRASM

JetBlue

+5%

United Continental^

+7.5% to +8.5%

US Airways^

+8%

Southwest ~

+1%

Allegiant>

+23.7% to +24.1%

The Air Transport Association of America (ATA) reported that passenger revenue, based on a sample group of carriers, rose 8% in Jun-2011 to USD 15.57 cents per RPM, marking the 18th consecutive month of revenue growth. Systemwide passenger traffic (RPMs) rose 0.3% while yield rose by over 7% in the month with a regional breakdown as follows:

  • US domestic revenue grew nearly 7% as passenger yields increased 7%;
  • Trans-Atlantic revenue increased 4.9% from a year ago;
  • Trans-Pacific revenue rose 5.7%;
  • Latin American/Caribbean revenue grew 21% as yields rose 17%.

"While the overall rate of growth in air travel expenditures appears to be slowing, we are encouraged by continued strength in the Latin American and Caribbean markets. We hope to see ongoing revenue growth in July to begin the third quarter," said ATA Vice President and Chief Economist John Heimlich.

Mr Heimlich previously stated that ATA forecasts 1.5% more passengers will fly during the summer months, with the association “optimistic that strong international demand will help offset volatile fuel costs”. A continued recovery in passenger yields and unit revenues have occurred in 2011 linked to an improvement in high-fare business travel demand.

12-Month Rolling Passenger Revenue* per Available Seat Mile (PRASM)

A profitable summer, but caution ahead

The nation’s airlines are generally expected to be profitable over summer 2011, with increased demand, high load factors and improved yields. However, continued high US unemployment and slumping retail sales could signal reduced demand for leisure travel, offsetting the strength in premium/business travel. Fare sales initiated this week by Southwest and AirTran covering the second half of the year indicate a need to stimulate demand.

See related report: US airlines look to international markets for future growth

APPENDIX: US airline Jul-2011 traffic summary

Select US airlines domestic traffic^ highlights: Jul-2011

 

Traffic (RPMs) (bill)

% Change

Capacity (ASMs) (bill)

% Change

Load factor (%)

% Change

Traffic – pax (mill)

% Change

Delta/Northwest+

11.2

-0.9%

12.8

-0.8%

87.9%

-0.2 ppts

n/a

n/a

Southwest~

10.0

+5.9%

11.8

+6.6%

85.1%

-0.5 ppts

12.6

+1.2%

United/Continental+

9.4

+0.3%

10.5

-0.7%

89.8%

+0.9 ppts

n/a

n/a

American*

7.2

-0.7%

8.1

-0.6%

88.5%

+0.7 ppts

n/a

n/a

US Airways*

4.3

+5.4%

4.8

+2.4%

88.1%

+2.6 ppts

4.2

+4.0%

Skywest>#

2.8

+57.5%

3.4

+56.0%

83.4%

+0.9 ppts

5.3

+48.2%

JetBlue>

3.1

+11.1%

3.6

+11.6%

85.9%

-0.3 ppts

2.6

+9.4%

Alaska Airlines<

2.1

+6.8%

2.4

+5.5%

88.5%

+1.1 ppts

1.7

+4.7%

Republic>

2.0

-2%

2.4

0%

85%

-1 ppt

3.0

-2%

American Eagle>

0.906

+15.7%

1.2

+12.6%

78.2%

+2.1 ppts

1.9

+9.3%

Hawaiian Airlines>

0.927

+11.7%

1.1

+13.6%

85.2%

-1.5 ppts

0.799

-0.9%

Allegiant>

0.605

+6.0%

0.663

+0.2%

91.3%

+5.0 ppts

0.673

+6.8%

Horizon Air<

0.186

-23.0%

0.230

-22.4%

80.9%

-0.7 ppts

0.586

-9.1%

Spirit Airlines

0.792

+20.0%

0.880

+14.0%

90.0%

+4.4 ppts

n/a

n/a


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