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United Airlines has made solid progress in 2H2014 in closing the gap in certain financial metrics with its peers, driven in part by several network changes that, in theory, should continue to lift the airline’s revenue performance in 2015.
The big unknown for United as 2014 comes to a close is if 2015 will be the year that its performance rises to the level of its peers on a sustained basis. After failing to meet similar declarations in the past United has understandably shied away from declaring 2015 as the target year for its turnaround.
But as the company continues to improve network utility, keep costs in check and cut debt while improving its balance sheet, United should look back on 2015 as a year of progress as it works to finally achieve the long awaited full merger benefits with Continental.
United Airlines continues its efforts to close the gap with peers after posting solid 3Q2014 results
United Airlines admits there is still much work ahead to close the gap with its large network airline peers in key metrics such as margin performance. But efforts United has undertaken to improve its revenue performance showed promise in 3Q2014 as it out-performed its peers in passenger unit revenue growth.
Even as it faces some unit revenue headwinds in 4Q2014, United believes it will sustain profitability during the last quarter of 2014 as the US domestic market remains robust.
Similar to rival Delta, United could grow its capacity to upwards of 2% in 2015, which may cause some concern among investors. But United stresses that much of the growth stems from aircraft up-gauging, improved utilisation and increasing density of certain aircraft.
Delta Air Lines has slightly adjusted its passenger unit revenue targets for 3Q2014 triggered by oversupply in some of its markets, unrest in the Middle East and the Ebola outbreak in Africa.
The airline has previously warned of tougher year-on-year comparisons in 3Q2014 after recording 7% unit revenue growth in 3Q2013. But despite the challenges that have cropped up during the last few months, Delta still predicts a strong performance in the quarter with double digit operating margin expansion and solid cost containment as demand in the US domestic market remains strong.
As it prepares to make trans-Atlantic capacity adjustments for the US winter time period in conjunction with its SkyTeam alliance partners, Delta is also making changes in it Pacific network by down-gauging Boeing 747s it operates to Tokyo and replacing them with smaller and more efficient aircraft.
As the trans-Pacific aviation market develops, traffic expands and new entrants arrive on the scene, there are predictablity changes in the ways passengers and freight move across this potentially vast long-haul market. One of the largest changes is occurring as Tokyo is bypassed.
US airlines in particular are resorting to use of the new direct rights - and new equipment - which provide them with improved non-stop access into the Chinese market and other Asian points.
This is the last part in a four-part series of analysis reports on the dynamic North Pacific market. The first part focused on Asian airlines, the second part on US carriers and the third part on the growing role of hubs in China.
Unsurprisingly, nearly 80% of the route expansion across the North Pacific in the past five years has occurred at hub airports where behind gateway connections are readily available - although for various reasons those connections are not always accessible on the same terms to Asian carriers, even where they are partners of the North American airlines.
China's emergence is marked by new service - 23% of all frequencies across the North Pacific are today are directed towards Shanghai and Beijing, up from 16% in 2009, while Tokyo has suffered the most notable reduction in flights.
However, as the market develops and as new factors like the introduction of the 787 begin to influence network planning, secondary airports are also starting to benefit. But it is a gradual process. Since 2009 there have been five new North American cities and three Asian airports directly linked for the first time.
Chinese airlines are increasing their commitment to US and Canadian points; and airports such as Shanghai Pudong, home of China Eastern, and Wuhan are offering generous inducements to airlines to add new long-haul service.
North Pacific air route development: Part 2 - US airlines’ risk aversion and Canada's restrictionism
In Part 1 of this report, we reviewed the higher than average traffic growth on the North Pacific over the past five years and the factors behind Asian airlines' route development.
In Part 2 we examine the aeropolitical environment on the Pacific and US airlines’ trans-Pacific roles. Canada's conservative policy is a constraint on Asian airline connections - and on potential air services to Latin America via Vancouver. Meanwhile, China's reluctance to move to open skies with the US limits American carriers' expansion plans.
The resurgence of US airline expansion is made possible not only by the prospect of market growth but also by their reincarnation as lower cost operations following bankruptcy and their subsequent mergers.