easyJet’s 1H2013 pre-tax result improved by GBP51 million to a loss of GBP61 million. This puts it comfortably on course to achieve the current consensus forecast for record pre-tax profits of GBP410 million in FY2013. It may also be on another collision course with founder and largest shareholder Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou over aircraft orders.
CEO Carolyn McCall believes easyJet can take further market share from non-LCCs on point-to-point routes. At its top 20 existing airports, where easyJet has 46 million seats (a share of 22%), she puts this potential additional market at 86 million seats. This analysis appears to pave the way for a large aircraft order after easyJet completes a review of its future fleet strategy later this year, although it insists that no decision has yet been taken.
This would not please Sir Stelios who said: “Good things happen to airlines that don’t order more aircraft.” Under Ms McCall's guidance easyJet's share price has more than doubled over the past year and not just because it didn't grow. It may be time for Sir Stelios to let go.
IAG profit guidance is dropped after first quarter loss, but can it still reach its previous target?
These are challenging times for IAG. The only one of the European Big Three to report a wider operating loss for 1Q2013 and to see net debt increase year-on-year, it also took significant new labour restructuring provisions in connection with Iberia. It has also dropped its previous ambitious target of exceeding 2011’s EUR485 million operating profit in 2013 for the time being.
The first quarter operating loss was affected by two factors whose negative impact should fall away over the rest of the year: first, the lag between Iberia’s capacity cuts and headcount cuts and, second, by a mirror image factor at British Airways, namely headcount increases ahead of the introduction of the A380 and 787 later this year.
Nevertheless, five years after the global financial crisis and more than two years into the British Airways/Iberia merger, IAG will need to show it can still match its previous 2013 profit target if it is to allay growing doubts over its ability to reach its 2015 goal of EUR1.6 billion in operating profit.
Two of the European Big Three reported 1Q2013 results within two days, so we can’t resist a comparison. Air France-KLM’s quarterly operating loss of EUR530 million was EUR171 million below Lufthansa’s. Air France-KLM shaved net debt from EUR6.0 billion at the end of 2012 to EUR5.9 billion; Lufthansa’s net debt is less than one third of this. AF-KLM’s 1Q RASK grew by 1.2%; Lufthansa’s by 2.8%.
Air France-KLM makes losses in Europe, where Lufthansa now claims a profit. In an attempt to fix this, Air France-KLM has Transavia for some leisure routes, Hop for French regional point-to-point and some hub feed, Air France’s provincial bases strategy (under review) for non-hub French routes and both Air France and KLM for everything else. Lufthansa has Germanwings for non-hub routes and Lufthansa for hub feed in Germany.
For FY2013, Air France-KLM isn’t saying whether it can improve on 2012’s EUR300 million operating loss, only that it aims to cut unit costs (ex fuel and currency) and net debt, whereas Lufthansa aims to beat last year’s EUR524 million profit.
Lufthansa on 2-May-2013 reported a 1Q2013 operating loss of EUR359 million, an identical loss as in the same period in 2012. All the main business segments improved their operating result, but restructuring costs weighed on the group result.
The quarter was characterised by capacity cuts, yield and load factor increases, and restructuring aimed at future profit improvements. Labour unrest, never far from the surface, returned during the quarter. Recent union agreements have reduced the risk in this area, although talks with the pilot union are on-going.
Pricing was generally fairly healthy, with yield and load factor growing, but weakness was again apparent in Asia-Pacific. On the analyst conference call to discuss 1Q2013 earnings, Lufthansa CFO Simone Menne did not rule out the possibility of using new partnerships as a more offensive solution to Lufthansa’s Asian problems, than the more defensive approach of capacity cuts and cabin mix changes.
Management will need to keep juggling these and other key issues – such as the ‘new’ Germanwings, office closures and headcount reductions – if it is to have a chance of reaching its FY2015 operating result target of EUR2.5 billion.
New partnerships, global alliances and cross-border ownership are changing traffic Flows – and hubs. This global shift was dealt with in some detail in the Feb-Mar 2013 edition of Airline Leader (“A seismic upheaval opens the way for next-generation alliances”). The impact of the Emirates, Qatar and Etihad agreements in Sep/Oct-2012 have irreversibly altered the evolution of the world industry.
Branded global alliances – Star, SkyTeam, oneworld – remain important, but the evolutionary direction has shifted towards alliances becoming much more pragmatic. This not only affects the airline industry, but goes also to the efficacy of airports and even national economies. Airport hubs will be dictated by these trends, shifting away from the traditional gateway transfer points to Gulf airports and, progressively to markets like China.
This is Part 2 of two parts: CAPA's Global Aviation Industry Outlook 2013, extracted from CAPA's Airline Leader, Issue 17, Apr/May 2013, to be released online shortly.
Latvia’s national carrier airBaltic recently reported a narrowing of its net loss in 2012, with RASK up 15%. The carrier is just over a year into a five year profit improvement plan. It says that it is surpassing its original turnaround plans and is on track to achieve targeted profitability by 2014. Network restructuring, improved revenue management and the relative economic health of the Baltic region compared with other parts of Europe are providing tail winds.
With only modest capacity growth planned for 2013 and monthly profitability exceeding management’s plan for the first three months of the year, there may be potential for airBaltic to improve on its 2013 target of stable RASK and perhaps to reach a positive net result ahead of schedule.
Nevertheless, its unit costs are not as low as the LCCs with whom it increasingly competes and labour productivity lags peers. Its fleet modernisation programme should help to narrow the unit cost gap, but management will be hoping it can retain its current pricing power.
Norwegian Air Shuttle narrowed its net loss in 1Q2013 and turned its operating result around from a loss of NOK574.6 million (USD99 million) to a profit of NOK69.2 million (USD12 million). Capacity continues to grow rapidly, with ASKs up 21% (11% due to longer average sectors), but load factor dipped by 1ppt to 76%.
Nevertheless, RASK grew 2% and revenues were up 23%, while unit costs were down 8%. Further CASK reduction remains a key target and the establishment of new bases outside high wage Scandinavia, both in Europe and in Asia, provides an opportunity to lower labour costs.
Norwegian recently announced a seventh widebody route (Oslo-Fort Lauderdale) for its long-haul network, which will launch on 30-May-2013 along with Oslo-New York. Its strategy of growing long-haul operations through new routes at the expense of frequency will help it to establish a wider presence more rapidly, but will reduce the available cost efficiencies at remote bases and restrict its appeal mainly to the leisure passenger. Norwegian’s long-haul network may struggle to be profitable for some time.
From the first US Open Skies agreement with the Netherlands in 1992, and the subsequent granting of antitrust immunity to the KLM-Northwest joint venture in 1993, the evolution of airline alliances has been rapid and far reaching. Bilateral codeshares, immunised JVs, multilateral branded global alliances, the Etihad equity alliance: why are there so many models? In the first of a series of reports based on CAPA’s recent Airlines in Transition conference in Dublin, we examine the history and evolution of airline alliances and partnerships.
After decades of strict regulation of international traffic rights post WWII, which controlled destinations, capacity, frequencies and prices, a campaign for more liberal air services agreements (ASA) between nations began to gather pace in the US from 1977. In the words of Jeffrey Shane, General Counsel, IATA and a former senior US aviation regulator, any attempt to modify an ASA was characterised by a "highly calibrated, tit-for-tat mode of negotiation".
This analysis updates CAPA's previous study of European airlines’ labour productivity ("European airlines’ labour productivity. Oxymoron for some, Vueling and Ryanair excel on costs") to reflect the most recent financial results and adds four carriers not included in the original article (Wizz Air, Aegean Airlines and the two IAG subsidiaries British Airways and Iberia).
The contrasting performance of LCCs and legacy carriers is clear, although there are some notable exceptions to the pattern. BA and Iberia’s different labour cost productivity is significant, while Air France-KLM and SAS are weak performers.
We introduce an overall CAPA European airline labour productivity ranking, revealing the carrier with Europe’s most productive workforce, based on six measures.
Aegean Airlines seems to be caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, challenged both by a very weak domestic market and by an increasingly competitive international market where it has neither cost leadership nor a global network. If approved by the EU this year, will its planned acquisition of Olympic Air provide a route to safety?
Aegean reported its third successive loss in 2012, albeit a narrower one than in 2011, as passenger numbers fell by 6%. Aegean managed to reduce costs at a similar rate and to limit the revenue fall to 2% by cutting domestic traffic and international traffic from Athens while growing international traffic from provincial Greek cities. Double digit passenger growth from 2003 to 2009 has been followed by domestic-led decline, with Athens (Aegean’s main hub, where it is the biggest carrier) a falling market. Although it has leading positions at its other Greek bases, LCCs are increasingly making their presence felt there.
The fast-growing Wizz Air Group, privately owned and not subject to the same financial and traffic reporting requirements as publicly listed companies, has remained a mystery when it comes to its cost structure and profitability. CAPA has obtained and analysed detailed financial and operating data and the results are presented in this article. The group’s cost base is certainly low – it has the second lowest unit costs among European carriers, with CASK more than one third lower than easyJet’s, and a track record of cutting ex fuel unit costs. This cost structure, built mainly on Europe's most productive and low-cost labour force, has helped Wizz Air to a strong market position in Central and Eastern Europe, where it was the leading LCC in the 12 months to Mar-2013.
Its last reported financial year (to Mar-2012) saw a healthy EBIT margin of 5.8%, after seeing net losses in six of the previous seven years, suggesting that the business may be maturing. Wizz's closest competitor, with overlap on around one quarter of its routes, is Ryanair, whose unit costs are 14% lower than Wizz Air’s. Ryanair is growing strongly in the region and this could threaten Wizz Air’s goal to become its largest carrier over the next decade unless it can continue to lower unit costs.
IATA recently raised its 2013 net profit forecast from USD8.4 billion to USD10.6 billion. Although the outlook for fuel prices has increased since its previous forecast in Dec-2012, so have its passenger and cargo traffic and yield forecasts. IATA’s forecast 2013 EBIT margin of 3.3% would be above mid-cycle, but below historic peaks. IATA releases contain other data with some interesting home truths.
Since the last aggregate net loss in 2009, the industry tightly controlled non-fuel costs, but fuel cost increases have eroded almost all the gains. Moreover, in spite of greater consolidation, real pricing power is still elusive. 2012’s net profit is equivalent to the price of an espresso coffee for each passenger, a pittance compared with the capital invested in the industry and its future investment needs. The ongoing failure of this economically vital sector to cover its cost of capital is a conundrum that cannot continue indefinitely.
Only full global liberalisation of controls on market access and ownership are likely to resolve it and that might require a lot more espressos.