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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 has its largest base at London Stansted Airport, and second-largest base at Dublin Airport. Ryanair currently operates a network covering over 40 bases and 1,100 routes (with over 1,300 daily departures) across 26 countries, connecting some 155 destinations. Ryanair operates a fleet of over 250 B737-800 aircraft, with a large order backlog and employs more than 8,000 people.
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's agreement to buy 100 Boeing 737MAX aircraft, plus a further 100 options, for delivery between 2019 and 2024 allows it to accelerate its traffic growth modestly. After four years of growing passenger numbers in the region of 3% to 5% annually, it looks set to step this up to 6% pa from FY2016 (year to March).
The greater fuel efficiency of the MAX and a higher number of seats (197, eight more than on its 737-800s) will give Ryanair significant operating cost per seat savings. Its negotiating power is likely to have secured favourable terms with Boeing and this should also give Ryanair an advantage over competitors in ownership cost per seat.
The recent evolution of its product and service add new elements to the basis of competition. However, low fares (based on low costs) will remain its key competitive advantage. In this report, we consider Ryanair's main strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
The government of Cyprus is currently assessing the expressions of interest it has received in connection with its controlling stake in the national carrier Cyprus Airways. The highest profile potential bidders are Ryanair and Aegean Airlines, who also happen to be the two most profitable European airlines in the first six months of calendar 2014.
For the outside observer, up to date analysis of Cyprus Airways' financial performance is not possible. Nevertheless, our previous analysis suggested that its unit costs were higher than those of its main competitors in the Cyprus market and it is unlikely that this situation has fundamentally changed. Moreover, its share of seats at its Larnaca base and in Cyprus overall is continuing to flow to others.
The sale of the airline could be its last chance of survival, although potential buyers may be tempted to use the process to find out as much as possible about an ailing competitor before letting it wither.
Europe's airlines: 1H2014 results season shows improving trend, but cost reduction is the key driver
Europe's airlines appear to be following a course to improved profitability, based on the 1H2014 results of the largest publicly quoted airline groups. Profits remain slender in most cases, but margins are improving in aggregate. Individually, financial performance varied widely, with LCCs both leading (Ryanair) and lagging (Norwegian) the operating profit margin rankings in 1H2014.
The European market offers volume growth, but is characterised by price pressure, with RASK falling for the majority of the larger airline groups and this points to the need for additional caution in capacity growth. The LCCs collectively enjoyed higher growth than the FSCs in 1H2014 and also achieved a more stable RASK performance (although not in all cases).
Profit improvement is largely being achieved through cost savings and CASK reduction. Although fuel prices are high on a longer term historic perspective, they are enjoying a period of relative stability and this has helped the cost picture. Although Europe's airline sector remains only thinly profitable, these 1H results hold out the prospect of better full year results in 2014 versus 2013.
Aer Lingus grew its 2Q2014 EBIT by one third as strong trading helped to offset the impact of strike action (actual and planned). Double digit capacity growth on the North Atlantic, reflecting new routes and increased frequencies, was the main driver of revenue growth.
Although Aer Lingus estimates a strike-related forward booking gap of EUR10 million into 2H2014, current trading is healthy and late summer forward bookings have seen some recovery. This has prompted the company to restore its previous guidance that FY2014 EBIT will be at least in line with last year, after lowering it in Jun-2014 due to the industrial action.
Nevertheless, the future growth and sustainability of profits will require cost savings and Aer Lingus' CORE programme will be vital. The industrial relations backdrop remains difficult, not least because of the lack of a full resolution to the pension funding issue. Discussions on this have been ongoing for most of CEO Christoph Mueller's five year tenure. His departure in May-2015 was recently announced and he will surely not want to bequeath this issue to his successor.
Ryanair increased its profits substantially in 1QFY2015, as revenue per seat grew faster than cost per seat. By comparison with the same quarter a year earlier, revenues and profits were assisted by the inclusion of Easter in 1Q this year, but the underlying trends still looked favourable.
In spite of its caution over the outlook for average fares in 2H, Ryanair has raised its profit guidance for FY2015, based on higher traffic and load factors and lower cost per passenger than previously expected.
This is in contrast with its profit warning last autumn (and with more recent profit warnings from a number of European legacy carriers) and gives some comfort that its strategic shift to increase the emphasis on customer service may be starting to work.
LOT Polish Airlines CEO Sebastian Mikosz said recently that profitability must be developed through passenger retention, expansion of its customer base and the introduction of new options for travel, services and comfort (Future Travel Experience, 20-Jun-2014). Its recent focus has been on the restructuring plan submitted last year to the European Union, involving cuts to capacity and costs.
LOT awaits final approval from the EU for its restructuring plan, which was required in connection with state aid provided by the Polish government in Dec-2012. The airline has said that it will not consider a second tranche of state aid before Sep-2014. It needs EU approval before it can decide its longer term future, including the possibility of seeking new investors, although it has reportedly started to develop a new five year strategic plan. Meanwhile, the privatisation process has gone very quiet.
Mr Mikosz is right to plan for the post restructuring world, but is faced with the need also to continue to make LOT's cost base more competitive against the LCCs that operate the majority of seats in the Polish market.