Airberlin narrowed its operating loss in 1Q2015 compared with 1Q2014, by growing unit revenue faster than unit cost, which was almost flat year on year. Unit revenue appears to be benefiting from network changes and a new revenue management system (and also from currency movements). However, the relatively contained unit cost performance owed much to lower fuel prices, without which the operating loss would have increased. Moreover, the airline said that seasonal effects such as Easter also had a positive impact on the result.
Airberlin still expects that yield improvement will lead to a "noticeable" improvement in earnings in 2015 after heavy losses in 2014. However, it says that "current foreseeable business development in 2Q has so far not fulfilled expectations". It continues to face significant challenges in its turnaround.
easyJet's 1H2015 results statement made for interesting reading. On the one hand, it reported its first positive pre-tax profit figure for the winter half in more than a decade (effectively due to lower fuel costs).
On the other hand, easyJet's outlook statement predicted a fall in 2H revenue per seat at constant currency, in contrast with the increase achieved in 1H. This is partly because of faster capacity growth, both by easyJet and competitors in its markets (to use easyJet's own words, "inefficient capacity is likely to stay in the market longer"), but also reflects the impact of lower fuel prices on air fares.
EasyJet is still set to record double digit growth in FY2015 pre-tax profit and to remain one of Europe's most profitable airlines. Nevertheless, after a very successful five year period between FY2009 and FY2014, when its pre-tax profit increased by a factor of eleven, it is perhaps not surprising that it is now in a more sustainable growth phase.
Finnair narrowed its operational loss in the seasonally weak 1Q2015. After capacity cuts and restructuring in 2014, it has returned to modest capacity growth. Revenue was stable as growth in passenger and ancillary revenue was offset by falling cargo and travel services sales. The narrower loss was thanks to decreased costs, with lower fuel prices playing a significant part. Ex fuel unit costs were up slightly, even after stripping out currency movements.
New labour agreements reached last year and the delivery in 2H2015 of Finnair's first four A350 aircraft should provide cost benefits in the future. In addition, Finnair has announced a new strategic focus placing the "customer experience" and "world-class operations" at its heart, presumably hoping this will bolster unit revenue. Finnair has also broadly reiterated its medium to long term financial goals, but remains a long way from achieving them.
One of Finnair's strategic focus areas is Northeast Asia, where it retains an ambitious growth target, but this does not square with last year's capacity cut and this year's slow growth in Asia. The A350 is expected to reinvigorate its Asia strategy.
IAG, Lufthansa & Air France-KLM: don't risk RASK. Lessons from 1Q2015 unit revenue & capacity growth
The 1Q2015 financial results of Europe's Big Three legacy airline groups again highlight their diverging pathways. Although all three recorded improved results versus last year, IAG underlined its superiority by posting a positive operating profit in what is seasonally the weakest quarter.
CAPA analysis often highlights the importance of cost discipline and much of IAG's success relative to Air France-KLM and Lufthansa is due to the head start it gave itself in pushing restructuring, particularly of labour costs. This remains crucial.
However, the focus of this report is to analyse the 1Q2015 unit revenue (RASK) performance of the Big Three and the relationship between RASK growth and ASK growth. Our analysis confirms that RASK performs better under conditions of tight capacity discipline, but also highlights some crucial differences between the Big Three and between their major route regions.
While IAG's major competitors are confronted with precarious labour and financial situations, the Group continues its strong march towards profitability. Its 1Q2015 results provided a first ever positive operating profit in the seasonally weak 1Q. Currency movements (mainly the strong USD) inflated both revenue and costs, with the net impact only very mildly negative. The swing to an operating profit from a loss in 1Q2014 was driven by unit revenues rising more rapidly than unit costs (or, excluding exchange rate effects, unit revenue falling less rapidly than unit costs).
At the individual airline level, British Airways returned to 1Q operating profit for the first time since before the global financial crisis and both Iberia and Vueling narrowed their margins of loss. What's more, in spite of Vueling's teething problems at its new Rome base, its rolling 12 month return on invested capital is above the group's 2016 target of 12%.
IAG as a whole and its other two subsidiaries remain short of this hurdle, but the group has reiterated its 2015 operating profit target and is confident it can reach its 2016 goals.
Norwegian narrowed its losses in 1Q2015, the first quarter in over a year when its adjusted operating result improved on a year-on-year basis. This was achieved as growth in unit revenue was higher than growth in unit costs although the loss was still its second highest first quarter loss.
Moreover, the containment of unit costs was entirely due to lower fuel prices, whereas non-fuel unit costs increased. Norwegian can point to costs related to a pilot strike as contributing to this, and adverse currency movements also hurt its result, but it does underline the need for cost efficiency improvements.
Meanwhile, Norwegian is still awaiting a definitive decision regarding its Ireland-registered subsidiary Norwegian Air International's US foreign carrier permit application. Approval would be positive for labour productivity on its long haul network. As the US DOT continues to drag its feet, Norwegian may soon be forced to consider alternative plans.
As is usually the case, Aer Lingus reported another first quarter loss in 1Q2015. The seasonally weakest quarter is never a good guide to the rest of the year, but the good news for Aer Lingus is that its margin of loss narrowed. This was driven by healthy growth in unit revenues, which outpaced the growth in unit costs.
Nevertheless, unit costs remain stubbornly on an upward path. To a large extent, this is because Aer Lingus has been adding costs associated with its long haul expansion ahead of the stronger summer season. The growth in its North Atlantic network has been well received in the market, with strong unit revenues in spite of double-digit capacity growth.
However, the company is focusing on initiatives to reduce the level of fixed cost in the winter and has indicated that it plans to extend its CORE restructuring programme. This is to be welcomed.
Consolidation in the North American marketplace has now been a mainstay for a decade, beginning with the combination of US Airways and America West and culminating with US Airways and American closing their merger in late 2013.
Those tie-ups, along with the Delta-Northwest merger, Continental’s pursuit of United and Southwest’s acquisition of AirTran, have resulted in four airlines controlling approximately 47% of North America’s capacity (ASMs).
The process of consolidation and rationalisation has inevitably created some openings. This potentially offers space for ULCCs and other more niche airlines to capture a larger place in the market. This report looks at some of the recent developments and at where the industry may be heading.
The topic of ULCCs in the US market place will feature in a high level panel session at CAPA's Americas Aviation Summit in Las Vegas on 27/28 April, 2105.
Turkey is home to two of Europe's fastest growing airlines. Turkish Airlines increased ASKs by 16% in 2014 and LCC Pegasus Airlines grew by 20%. From a standing start as a scheduled carrier ten years ago, Pegasus' share of seats in Turkey reached 19% in 2014. Turkish remained the country's largest airline, but its market share of just under 54% in 2014 was unchanged from 2010. The main battlegrounds between the two are on international routes to/from Europe and in the domestic market, where Pegasus has grown particularly rapidly.
Until 2013, Turkish Airlines more or less left Pegasus alone at its home base of Istanbul Sabiha Gokcen, where the LCC is the number one airline. Since then, however, Turkish has outgrown its rival at Istanbul's number two airport. Turkish now overlaps on city pairs that cover 97% of Pegasus seat capacity from Sabiha Gokcen.
It is no coincidence that Pegasus' unit revenue and operating profit margin have dipped since this onslaught. Neither has Turkish emerged unscathed. Both plan further rapid growth this year, but appear to be holding a truce in the price war.
According to airberlin's preliminary results, it narrowed its underlying operating loss (before restructuring and one-off costs) for 2014. It made progress with cost restructuring, but missed its planned turnaround because unit revenues were weak. After restructuring and one-offs, its net loss will be worse than in 2013.
With only one year of (very small) net profit since 2007, it seems that loss-making can be a hard habit to break. More recent data show an improving unit revenue trend and airberlin expects 2015 to be much better than last year.
Nevertheless, this cannot hide the enormity of the challenge facing new CEO Stefan Pichler (appointed 2-Feb-2015) in restoring airberlin to profit. The fourth CEO in as many years has launched another redesign of the company's business model, aiming for a positive result in 2016.
Reporting a strong increase in its 2014 profits, the Aegean Airlines Group has confirmed its position as Europe's most profitable legacy airline (by operating margin). Double digit capacity growth, increasing competition from LCCs (Ryanair in particular) and the fragile Greek economic backdrop led to a reversal of the unit revenue increase that Aegean enjoyed in 2013. However, it managed to offset lower RASK with even lower CASK.
In 2014, Aegean completed its first full year following the acquisition of Olympic Air. The Olympic acquisition brought Aegean a domestic PSO network, the flexibility to deploy turboprops on thinner domestic routes and more options in adapting capacity and frequency to optimise connectivity between domestic and international routes.
With Olympic's 2013 revenue around one quarter that of its parent in 2013, this was a significant acquisition for Aegean. It seems to have absorbed it without breaking its stride.
Aer Lingus grows FY operating profit, but needs further cost cuts. Meanwhile, IAG bid inches forward
Aer Lingus grew its operating profit in 2014, although the net result fell into loss due to a one-off pension scheme payment. Unit revenues increased across the network, helped on European routes by modest capacity reduction, but also achieved on the North Atlantic in spite of double digit growth.
However, unit costs increased too, albeit a little more slowly than unit revenues, and have been rising for five years. In 2014, this was partly explained by costs of further long haul growth before assets are fully utilised. Nevertheless, Aer Lingus has rightly identified unit cost reduction as a priority to drive margin expansion.
This will be vital, regardless of the outcome of IAG's bid for Aer Lingus at EUR2.55 per share (EUR2.50 in cash and EUR0.05 in dividends). The Irish government, holder of 25% of the company, now seems to be inching towards the IAG deal. However, there could be a sticking point in its recent request that IAG extend beyond five years the commitments it has offered over the continued use of Aer Lingus' Heathrow slots on Irish routes.