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Thailand’s Nok Air plans to pursue rapid growth of its international network in 2H2015 with new services to China, Vietnam and Singapore. Its joint venture medium/long-haul LCC NokScoot is also planning to commence new routes to China and Taiwan by the end of 2015 as it will likely not be able to launch long planned services to Japan and South Korea until 2016 due to regulatory restrictions implemented by these countries on Thai carriers following Thailand’s failure of an ICAO safety audit.
Nok strategically needs to expand in the international market, where it now has a relatively limited presence. But it will have to overcome competition from LCCs already serving the Thailand to China, Singapore, Taiwan and Vietnam markets.
This is Part 1 of a two-part series of reports on the network expansion plans of Nok and NokScoot. This part will focus on expansion by both Nok-branded carriers in China and Taiwan as well as Nok’s plans for taking over NokScoot’s Bangkok-Singapore route. The second part will focus on Nok’s plans for expansion in other Southeast Asian markets, in particular Vietnam, and continued expansion in the Thai domestic market.
As questions reverberate about China's economy and slowing growth, what are the impacts to Chinese aviation, home to the world's second-largest domestic market?
The good news is 1Q2015 traffic from China's airlines is comfortably robust, increasing 13% and surpassing 100 million passengers for the first time. Domestic growth remained at 11%, with Chinese airlines carrying an additional 9 million domestic passengers in 1Q2015 compared to 1Q2014 – equivalent to an additional 656 737 flights a day.
International growth has picked up giant steam, surging 57% in 1Q2015 – equivalent to an additional 64 A380 flights a day. But overall international traffic remains small for Chinese airlines, accounting for only about 7% of total carriage – the same as in 2008 but higher than more recent years. Regional growth has slowed to 5% as Hong Kong and Macau are not as attractive as they used to be.
More worryingly for Taiwan, that market is starting to show a contraction in Chinese visitors, perhaps as they head to seemingly more exotic regional Asian points like Japan, Korea and Thailand. Those three countries will attract the highest growth from Chinese airlines in summer 2015.
Sichuan Airlines is due to take delivery of an Airbus A320 family aircraft on 22-May-2015, giving the Chengdu-based carrier 100 aircraft. Sichuan becomes the seventh airline in China to have a fleet of 100 or more aircraft. Globally Sichuan will be the world's 50th largest airline by fleet size. Sichuan intends to take another 100 aircraft over the next decade.
Sichuan's hinterland is mostly in China's west, from Xi'an and Kunming to Chengdu and Chonqging, although it also has a large presence along China's eastern seaboard. Sichuan carried just under 20 million passengers in 2014, almost all domestic.International flying, which accounts for 9% of Sichuan's seats in May-2015, is mostly around Northeast and Southeast Asia but limited long-haul links extend to Australia, Moscow and Vancouver.
All of China's Big Three airlines – Air China, China Eastern and China Southern – have a direct or indirect stake in Sichuan Airlines, creating competing interests in China's booming west.
United Airlines is bracing for a unit revenue decline during 2Q2015 that could reach the mid single digits as internal and external factors are coalescing to drag down the company’s performance in that metric.
But United maintains that some drivers of the decline are both earnings and margin accretive, and stresses it ultimately makes decisions to maximise margins and return on invested capital (ROIC). To demonstrate that philosophy it has undertaken several fleet changes that include deploying 777-200 onto high frequency domestic hub-to-hub routes.
To mitigate some of the pressure it is feeling from the strengthening USD and competitive capacity actions, United has shaved a half-point off of its projected 2015 capacity growth and now expects a 1% to 2% expansion for the year as it works to shore up margins and sustain profitability.
'Luck' may be in its name but Chinese carrier Lucky Air is not leaving its future entirely to fate. The Kunming-based carrier is expected to transition to the low-cost model, following the Chinese government's rapid rise in LCC interest.
With a southwestern base and route network concentrated on secondary cities, fare premiums are hard to attain. Lucky Air hopes to differentiate itself in China's often dated and monotonous airline branding, and so has introduced a new logo, becoming the latest HNA-affiliated airline to re-brand.
Lucky Air is one of two Chinese carriers granted international traffic rights at Kunming and there is the prospect for further international growth, mostly to South and Southeast Asia. If it is to be serious about addressing costs, Lucky Air will need to look at its fleet, a mix of 737s and A320s. Its 26 aircraft fleet could grow to 70 by 2020, including possibly widebody aircraft within three years, the carrier announced at the Routes Asia forum in Kunming.
Kunming in southwest China has been the country's traditional gateway to Southeast Asia, and flights to Southeast Asia account for 60% of Kunming's international seats, making Kunming an exception to most other Chinese airports mostly with larger international exposure to Northeast Asia. Kunming hopes to use its Southeast Asian network to be a transfer hub from North America and Europe, and in 2014 its regional government established a RMB200 million (USD32 million) fund for new international routes.
Such traffic, while plausible in the long-term, will be the icing on the cake. 93% of the airport's seats in Mar-2015 are domestic and Kunming carried 32m passengers in 2014. International will be a small but growing part of Kunming's story, with sixth-freedom Europe/North America-Southeast Asia traffic even smaller. Kunming's geography disadvantages it in having long-haul flights to North America.
While geography is more favourable to Europe, competition from Southeast Asian and Gulf carriers is strong and Kunming will be up against mighty networks. Point-to-point traffic volumes are not large enough to contemplate filler connecting traffic and Kunming cannot rely on connecting traffic the way Dubai can.