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Thailand’s regional market is poised for rapid growth as Kan Air expands its newly acquired ATR 72 fleet. Kan Air is using the 66-seat turboprop to expand at its Chiang Mai base, launch several routes from U-Tapao airport near Pattaya and potentially serve a new airport it is constructing on the resort island of Koh Phagnan.
Thailand’s two largest LCCs, Nok Air and Thai AirAsia, are also expanding their regional operations. Nok is adding two turboprops to its fleet in 2015 while Thai AirAsia is using its expanding fleet of A320s to launch services to secondary destinations which traditionally have only been served with turboprops.
The regional expansion in Thailand is driven by potential opportunities in underserved markets as well as the overcapacity that is now plaguing domestic trunk routes. But there is a risk the regional market could also quickly become oversupplied, particularly if China’s Hainan Group follows through on plans to launch a new joint venture regional carrier in Thailand.
The development of the new generation widebody aircraft, such as Boeing’s 787 and Airbus’ A350, may soon lead to direct services from European hubs to a growing number of secondary cities in North America.
Virgin America has followed through on previous declarations that it could begin service to Hawaii by YE2015 with the firming of plans to launch flights from San Francisco to Honolulu and Maui during 4Q2015.
The airline is entering a crowded market with ample existing service from all three airports serving the San Francisco Bay area – San Francisco international, Oakland and San Jose. Virgin America is well aware of those competitive dynamics; but has concluded that the market can absorb more capacity.
Virgin America is opting to enter the Hawaiian market as it faces tough conditions in transcon markets during 2015 and with its new Dallas Love Field flights. At the same time its stock price has dropped and its unit costs are forecast to rise. All those factors are creating headwinds for Virgin America as it works to sustain its profitability in 2015.
Brazil’s third largest airline Azul opted to pursue an ambitious expansion to the US with Airbus widebodies during a time of economic unrest in the country and a rapid devaluation of the BRL against the USD. Those conditions drove Azul to drop plans for an initial public offering in early 2015 – the third time the airline has opted to cancel an IPO during the last couple of years.
Azul’s new flights from its Campinas headquarters to Fort Lauderdale and Orlando appear to be performing solidly, with average load factors near 90% for the first two months of 2015. But the airline could be trading yields for loads to ensure a strong showing for the start of its long-haul expansion.
Azul is also no doubt feeling pressure in its domestic performance, which still represents the bulk of its operations. High inflation and general weak conditions could continue to pressure yields for the foreseeable future, which could force Azul to push back its plans to access the public markets until 2016.
JetBlue Airways continues to exude confidence that its higher than average capacity expansion in 2015 is being executed profitably, arguing that its favourable experience with competitive pricing is a combination that few airlines are looking to exploit.
The airline faces the delicate balance of increasing shareholder returns and still maintaining a positive customer image, something that was dulled in late 2014 as it unveiled a seat densification and new fare families whose lowest priced option includes a first bag fee.
Now that some of the competitive capacity JetBlue faced in the Caribbean and Latin America in late 2014 has eased, the airline’s overall network diversification should create some advantages for the airline in 2015 as it works to deliver higher returns and strengthen its balance sheet.
Brazilian airline Gol continues to face all the same challenges in 2015 that have plagued the airline during the last two to three years – a weak Brazilian economy, currency devaluation and soft corporate demand.
The company during that time has taken steps to improve its fundamentals including restructuring debt and improving its leverage ratios. Now it has gained approval from shareholders for a new corporate structure to allow the airline to possibly expand foreign ownership, which could create some advantages over the long term.
But in the short term Gol admits that the overall macroeconomic environment was even more challenging at the start of 2015 as corporate demand has fallen-off amidst a still-weak Brazilian economy.