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Based in Stockholm, Scandinavian Airline System (SAS) is the national airline of three Scandinavian States; Denmark, Norway and Sweden, operating three primary hubs at Copenhagen-Kastrup Airport, Stockholm-Arlanda Airport and Oslo Gardermoen Airport. SAS’ network consists of extensive regional services within Scandinavia and Europe as well as international services to Asia and North America. SAS is member of the Star Alliance.
Location of SAS main hub (Copenhagen Kastrup Airport)
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1,253 total articles
94 total articles
An impending three day strike by Lufthansa pilots – described by the carrier as "one of the biggest walkouts" in its history – highlights what continues to be a challenging labour relations environment for Europe's legacy carriers. In spite of years of competition from LCCs and cost efficient long-haul players, and after significant progress with restructuring programmes, such disputes remain common.
Labour-related issues are affecting a number of other airlines, including Austrian Airlines, Air France, Aer Lingus, SAS and Finnair. Even LCC Norwegian Air Shuttle faces key strategic questions in connection with the use of low-cost labour to grow its nascent long-haul business. In general, however, LCCs enjoy a less unionised environment and greater labour flexibility.
It is not uncommon for labour unions to become more militant as the profit cycle picks up, but airlines cannot always hide behind this excuse. As IAG CEO Willie Walsh has said*, "it is not about unions, but management. Management needs determination and can do it if it wants to…Cost creep is requested by unions, but made by management”.
When it announced a return to profit for FY2013 in Dec-2013, SAS warned that 1QFY2014 would be “extremely weak”. Its prediction has proved correct. The SAS Group’s 1Q pre-tax loss (before non-recurring items) widened by 57%. It continued to make good progress with its 4Excellence Next Generation (4XNG) cost reduction plan, but highly competitive market conditions weighed heavily on unit revenues.
SAS President and CEO Rickard Gustafson commented that the quarter was “marked by overcapacity and lower growth, which put pressure on margins across the entire market.” In this respect, SAS may be contributing to its own problems as it plans faster growth than the market this summer.
Its cost cutting and product improvement credentials are strengthening with each passing quarter, but its capacity growth is clearly not being absorbed profitably by the market.
The SAS Group returned to net profit in FY2013, mainly through successful cost reduction. There was no growth in revenues, in spite of 6% ASK growth by the core SAS airline. In addition to cost cutting, the group’s restructuring in the year also included the sale of 80% of its Norwegian regional subsidiary Widerøe and the sale of 10% of its ground handling operation to Swissport as a first step in what is intended eventually to be a full disposal.
Improved profitability was essentially the result of SAS lowering its unit costs, CASK, faster than the decline it suffered in unit revenues, RASK. In both cases, this extends the trend of recent years. However, in spite of attempts to shore up demand (with some success – it has grown membership of its EuroBonus FFP), the slide in RASK accelerated in 4Q2013. This was partly currency related, but also reflects tough competitive dynamics in SAS’ markets.
Moreover, its CASK reduction in the year, while commendable, still leaves it with one of the highest levels of unit costs in Europe. SAS is not out of the woods yet - but the profit is a welcome result.
SAS made a bigger profit in 3QFY2013 (May-Jul) than in the same period a year ago, building on the positive momentum developed in 2Q, when it narrowed its losses after reporting wider losses in 1Q. Its ‘4Excellence Next Generation’ restructuring plan delivered further savings in the quarter and SAS has made good progress with most of the key savings and liquidity measures identified in the plan. It has confidently reiterated its FY2013 target of positive earnings.
SAS has also announced plans to order new long-haul aircraft and should complete the sale of Wideroe and the outsourcing of ground-handling in the near future. Focusing the network around the needs of frequent flyers and investing in cabin refurbishment should provide some differentiation from, and appeal relative to, LCC competitors on both short-haul and long-haul. Nevertheless, SAS is still a high-cost carrier and remains vulnerable to price-based competition.
This is the second in a three part series of reports on the Southeast Asia-Western Europe market. The first part analysed the position of Southeast Asian carriers as Philippine Airlines (PAL) and Garuda Indonesia prepare to join four peers in operating non-stop flights to Europe. This part looks at the position of European carriers, where there also has been a new entry along with expansion by some of the existing carriers.
Norwegian became the eighth European carrier and first LCC to serve the Southeast Asian market in Jun-2013, when it launched services to Bangkok from Oslo and Stockholm. Norwegian brings a return of low-cost services to the Asia-Europe market following the withdrawal of AirAsia X, which dropped its A340-operated London and Paris routes in Mar-2011. AirAsia X is now focusing on routes within the Asia-Pacific region and flights of less than nine hours, using A330-300s.
Norwegian has big ambitions for Southeast Asia and is preparing to open a base at Bangkok which could support additional flights to Europe. But for now Norwegian's main focus is on more rapid expansion in the North Atlantic, where flights are shorter and potentially more conducive to the long-haul low-cost model.
In 2QFY2013 (Nov-2012 to Apr-2013), SAS has turned around pre-tax losses to report a profit (before non-recurring items) and reversed the pattern of 1QFY2013, when its losses widened. It has made progress with cost reduction and looks to be on track to achieve its FY2013 financial targets. It has also recently agreed to sell its Wideroe subsidiary and made further progress in its fleet modernisation programme.
SAS' recent launch of new fare classes SAS Go and SAS Plus scarcely looks to be the “new service concept” that it claims, but at least the Nordic region’s largest carrier is attempting to differentiate itself from its many and growing competitors. In 2012, President and CEO Rickard Gustafson said the restructuring plan was a “final call” for SAS. It seems that, at least for now, the group has not yet missed the flight.