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With a very large land mass and vast uninhabited areas, aviation is vital to Australia's economic and social fabric. Australia’s main international gateways are Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide, Darwin, Cairns and the Gold Coast. The commercial aviation market is comprised of four main carriers that serve the domestic routes: national carrier Qantas Airways; Jetstar (Qantas’ LCC unit); Virgin Blue and latest entrant Tiger Airways Australia (a unit of Singapore's Tiger Aviation).
Australia's Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government – the key regulatory arm for national aviation – has established an open skies policy framework. The Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) monitors safety and maintenance standards, while Airservices Australia is a corporatised (government-owned) air traffic controller.
Airports in Australia
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Emirates Airline carried 15% additional passengers in the first half of 2013/2014 compared to a year ago. The growth in volume has been led by Europe and the Middle East while Australia has seen the highest percentage growth. Saudi Arabia, the UK and Thailand have received some of the largest capacity injections. India and the UK remain Emirates' two largest markets based on seat capacity, but Saudi Arabia has overtaken Germany as the third-largest while Australia overtook the US, and Thailand overtook South Africa.
In terms of the rate of growth, the standouts were Portugal, Vietnam and Zambia – all with 100%-plus growth, albeit from a low base. But Emirates saw 40-50% growth in seven other countries, including Australia, Saudi Arabia and France.
Overall, 15% passenger growth and 16% capacity growth for an airline the size of Emirates is a considerable achievement. Full year capacity growth, however, is likely to be closer to 12%, making 2013/2014 one of the slower years at Emirates in recent times. Asia will be the largest market for growth, followed by Europe and the Middle East.
Hawaiian Airlines is readying for a slow-down in expansion after an ambitious push into long-haul international markets that has encompassed the introduction of more than 10 new destinations during the last few years.
The slowdown is occurring as industry capacity in Hawaiian’s US mainland markets is rationalising and a new revenue management system is helping to improve performance at the airline’s Maui hub.
Despite continuing currency headwinds, Hawaiian remains bullish on its long-term outlook for Japan, which during 3Q2013 represented half of the airline’s international network. With the planned slowing of growth, Hawaiian appears to be laying the groundwork to hunker down and effectively manage the maturation of the new routes that have come online.
Sichuan Airlines, China's fifth carrier to offer international long-haul services, will increase its presence in Australia with a new twice-weekly Chongqing-Sydney service launching 20-Dec-2013 with A330s. The route complements Sichuan's existing Chengdu-Melbourne service and will more easily allow passengers to visit Australia's two largest cities. Short connecting flights between Chengdu and Chongqing will complete the loop. The service will further expand the massive influx of Chinese capacity Australia has seen in recent years, including China Southern's A380 deployment to Sydney in Oct-2013.
Yet to be realised are Sichuan's bold plans to grow in Europe and North America. While the carrier's largest shareholder is the Sichuan government, all three of China's main airlines – Air China, China Eastern and China Southern – own a stake in Sichuan Airlines, complicating its aspirations. Slower growth may be wise: the Chengdu-Melbourne service in its first five months averaged only a 45% load factor. While China's secondary and western cities have geographical advantages for European services, for Australia it will be some time before they mature. This is not helped by the fact that Sichuan does not have an English language website.
Tigerair & Scoot poised for expansion in under-penetrated Singapore-China market as Jetstar retracts
The Singapore-China market has huge potential for low-cost carriers, which currently only account for 19% of capacity between the two countries. But the market has proven to be challenging for Jetstar, which is cutting two more Singapore-China routes and reducing the LCC group’s capacity share to an insignificant 3% compared to 10% two years ago.
Expansion from Tigerair and Scoot has filled some of the void left by Jetstar. But total LCC capacity and the LCC penetration rate in the Singapore-China market is on the decline, dropping to only 16% in Jan-2014.
Singapore’s overall LCC penetration is now 31% and is continuing to rise. The relatively low penetration in the Singapore-China market is surprising, particularly as the market enjoys open skies. But the long-term potential is there for more LCC services.
AirAsia X’s new affiliate in Thailand is gearing up to launch services in early 2014 with an initial fleet of two A330-300s and an initial network of three destinations. At least one destination in Australia and North Asia is expected to be served from a base at Bangkok’s Don Muang Airport.
Thai AirAsia X (TAAX) is one of three new low-cost carriers in Thailand but is strategically well positioned as it will be the country’s first medium/long-haul LCC. It will also have the advantage of being on the receiving end of Thailand’s largest short-haul LCC, Thai AirAsia.
TAAX will be the first of potentially several new joint venture carriers from Malaysia-based AirAsia X, which is using proceeds from a Jun-2013 IPO to accelerate expansion in line with a new multi-hub strategy. Indonesia is in line to host the second AirAsia X affiliate, potentially launching by the end of 2014 with a base in Bali. The Philippines for now is not being considered for an AirAsia X affiliate, although it remains a long-term possibility.
Scoot has unveiled plans to launch service to Perth, which will become the Singapore Airlines long-haul low-cost subsidiary’s 12th and final destination to be served as part of its initial six-aircraft 777-200 operation. Scoot has quickly expanded since launching in Jun-2012 but after placing into service its sixth 777 in Nov-2013 will take a one-year hiatus from expanding until its first of 20 787s arrive in late 2014.
In an unusual but logical move, Scoot has decided to lease its sixth 777 from SIA and keep the aircraft in SIA configuration. This enables the carrier to save on retrofit costs but will lead to higher per seat costs until the aircraft is replaced with a 787-8 in 2015.
Scoot has emerged as an important tool to expand SIA’s already leading presence in the key markets of Australia and Greater China. Perth will be Scoot’s third Australian destination while its other previously announced new upcoming destination, Hong Kong, will be Scoot’s sixth destination in Greater China. The carrier also serves Bangkok, Seoul and Tokyo.