Virgin Atlantic traded 14 slots per week at London Heathrow Airport to United Airlines for winter 2010/11 on 02-Jun-2010 (slottrade.aero, 23-Jun-2010). The trade description noted: “Return of daily morning arrival and evening departure.”
Virgin Atlantic trades Heathrow slots to United
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United, Delta, American Airlines: Cost creep, rising oil prices put pressure on the Big 3 to deliver
For the large three global US network airlines – American, Delta and United – the final quarter of 2016 offers some hope of negative unit revenue trends starting to stabilise, a welcome sign after two years of declines. But those positive developments are occurring against a backdrop of rising fuel costs and overall cost creep for those airlines, as labour expenses rise in the face of new collective bargaining agreements they have achieved.
Although each airline has offered a nuanced interpretation of domestic trends, the general consensus is that dynamics began to improve in Aug-2016 as close-in yields started to strengthen. After enduring tough conditions in Latin America driven by Brazil’s recession, American and Delta posted positive passenger unit revenues (PRASM) in their Latin entities in 3Q2016, and expect further improvement. Higher industry capacity is creating challenges for those airlines in the Atlantic and Pacific, but generally it seems that the path of unit revenue declines in those regions should moderate progressively.
Delta is aiming to post positive PRASM early in 2017, and American believes it can reach a positive result in total unit revenues in 1H2017. For now United is not offering a specific time period for a reversal of negative PRASM, but feels confident it is heading in the right direction, given the changing dynamics in certain areas of its network.
Chinese long haul secondary city air routes: BA's Chengdu exit does not reflect the broader market
The fastest long haul airline growth is not occurring with Gulf airlines but rather, with services to and from secondary Chinese cities. It is not a secret that local incentives and subsidies, generally common in any market, are especially large in price and duration for secondary Chinese cities. An airline might expect over a third of revenues to be subsidised. This drastically alters the business case in a low-margin industry, hence the proliferation of secondary city services. This extreme dependence on subsidies raises the question of how long governments are willing to issue generous subsidies, and how many routes can be sustainable without them.
British Airways' decision to exit its only secondary Chinese route to Chengdu, in Jan-2017, might suggest the music is ending and the secondary long haul bubble is popping. There is added colour given the recent UK-China air service agreement expansion, and Brexit/British pound depreciation overhangs.
BA's exit does confirm market fundamentals: secondary city yields are low, and some routes are ahead of their time. Yet a number of factors unique to British Airways suggest caution in concluding that BA's Chengdu exit could foreshadow other withdrawals.