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Ryanair is Europe's largest airline, the largest low-cost carrier, and one of the world's largest airlines as measured by international passengers carried. Ryanair's largest hub is at London Stansted Airport, with its second largest base at Dublin Airport. The carrier operates a comprehensive network of services across Europe, the Mediterranean and North Africa with a fleet of over 300 B737-800 aircraft.
Location of Ryanair main hub (London Stansted Airport)
Ryanair share price
LCCs will continue to evolve into hybrids of the original core model. CAPA and OAG consider Ryanair fits the LCC profile and it is included in our reporting on this basis. Please note: when reporting for an airline is changed from or to LCC the historical data is not affected and it can lead to a distortion in the current reported data. Contact us if you have any queries.
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Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary’s recent musings about a possible low-cost transatlantic project indicate that he believes any such operation would need average fares below EUR100.
This raises the question of just what is a sustainable fare in this market?
Until recently the exclusive preserve of legacy full service carriers, the North Atlantic has seen the entry of LCC Norwegian over the past year.
However, it was always possible to find relatively low fares and Norwegian’s pricing, while lower than that of premium airlines such as British Airways, does not appear to be substantially lower than the average all-inclusive economy fare of Association of European Airlines (AEA) member airlines between Europe and North America.
This report explores some of the key factors in establishing viable pricing for this model.
The last of Europe's stock market-listed airlines recently reported financial results for 2014, providing the opportunity to compare levels of profitability. Ranking them by operating margin, there is a wide range of performance from healthy double digit to negative figures.
LCCs typically performed better than legacy airlines. Most of the higher margin airlines improved in 2014, while most of those at the lower end of the scale suffered a fall in margins. Convergence of business models does not show itself in convergence of financial performance.
Beyond the listed airlines, Europe has a large number of mainly small and unprofitable airlines, which drag down the aggregate margin of the continent's airline sector. Europe's traffic growth and load factors are relatively healthy by world standards, but its margins are held back by its fragmented market structure.
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.
Just as Rome was not built in a day, the battle among the airlines at its main airport will also take its time to play out.
A year ago, CAPA examined the growing levels of competition at Rome Fiumicino. The fight was not only between the disruptive LCCs and the well-established, but struggling, Alitalia. It was also increasingly between the LCCs themselves. At that time, Ryanair had just entered the airport for the first time, Vueling was about to establish a new base and to inject massive capacity growth there and easyJet also planned strong growth. Alitalia faced further erosion of its market share.
A year on and the battleground continues to be fiercely contested. Vueling plans further huge growth this summer, Ryanair is to transfer more routes to Fiumicino from Ciampino and easyJet, while taking a relative pause for breath, is still set to grow capacity at a double digit rate this summer. Alitalia's share continues to fall, but at least it has ensured its survival after receiving an investment by Etihad.
Both Ryanair and easyJet recently reported strong progress during the quarter ended Dec-2014. Both demonstrated that losses in the traditionally weak winter period are narrowing. Ryanair even looks set to report a profit for its winter half year and raised its guidance for FY2015 (March year end).
Ryanair cautioned that high levels of fuel hedging would limit profit growth in FY2016, especially as it expects lower fuel costs to add to downward pressure on fares. easyJet too has fairly high levels of fuel hedging. Nevertheless, both look well positioned to take further market share from higher priced legacy carriers, building on initiatives around product and service quality and targeting business travellers (although they are at different stages in these areas).
Where there is a marked contrast between Ryanair and easyJet is in average revenue per passenger. Ryanair's lower costs allow it to sustain lower fares profitably. For many years, the two have mainly attacked different markets, but head to head competition between them is on the increase. In this report, we analyse the extent of their overlap.