Spirit cancels services ahead of pilots strike
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Europe's aviation strike spike could signal a cyclical peak - with downturn to follow
One swallow does not make a spring and nor does a rash of aviation strike news guarantee a turning point for the aviation industry. But the signs are ominous. In the month of Jun-2016 (to 20-Jun-2016), there have been 136 articles on CAPA's website mentioning the word 'strike'. This compares with 81 for the first 20 days of Jun-2015. For 2016 so far (1-Jan-2016 to 20-Jun-2016), the 's' word has occurred in 594 articles – about 20% more than in the same period in each of the past two years. If this rate continues, 2016 could be the biggest year for strike-related articles since before the global financial crisis.
The vast majority of the Jun-2016 articles – 80% – relate to Europe. A significant source is air traffic control disputes, particularly French ATC. There have also been strikes and/or strike threats involving airport workers and ground handlers. Among European airlines, Air France has generated the most coverage for its ongoing dispute with its pilots, and it may also face a cabin crew strike. Lufthansa has not yet faced a strike by its employees this year, but has not yet reached new agreements with pilots or cabin crew after industrial action last year.
History tells us that labour's demands grow as profits rise. The apparent increase in industrial action this year could be a signal of an approaching peak in the airline profit cycle. There are other causes of unrest, such as impending French labour legislation, but the correlation reflects some history.
Spirit Airlines: touting solid financial position, but investors stay laser-focused on unit revenue
During the past year investor attention has pivoted away from Spirit’s steady balance sheet and strong cost base to the company’s deteriorating unit revenue – a scenario most US airlines find themselves dealing with as a result of lower fuel costs driving up capacity and eroding pricing traction.
Growing cash balances and sustaining favourable leverage remain crucial elements of Spirit’s business strategy. Keeping a stable cash position allows the airline to fund its higher than average growth, which continues to deliver strong margins according to Spirit's argument.
Its industry-leading cost performance is key to Spirit’s ability to sustain solid margins even as the US revenue environment remains weak. Although it faces some cost inflation in 2016, the airline remains focused on sustaining one of the best cost performances in the US airline business.