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One of two administrative regions of China, Hong Kong has experienced an advancing aviation industry for a number of years. Hong Kong's only civil airport is Hong Kong International Airport (HKG), a leading passenger gateway in Asia and one of the busiest airports in the world in terms of international passengers and cargo flights. With over 85 airlines, HKG is the hub for Cathay Pacific, Dragonair, Air Hong Kong, Hong Kong Airlines and Hong Kong Express. Although Hong Kong does not have a national airline, Cathay Pacific would be the closest to such. The Civil Aviation Department is the aviation authority in Hong Kong, responsible for providing air traffic control services as well as reporting to the Government.
Airports in Hong Kong
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China's regulator the CAAC decreed that Air China is the largest carrier in the China-US market, ending the "domination" of US carriers. However this was based on Air China operating to six US cities while the largest US carrier, United, links China with only five US cities.
On almost every other metric – seats, frequency, city pairs – United (Air China's Star Alliance partner) is far larger and will grow in 2015 as it expands its Chengdu service and adds a second daily flight from San Francisco to Shanghai, the first example of a US carrier having more than a daily flight on a Chinese routing.
Perhaps more important though is the fact that the CAAC saw fit to announce the comparison, a clear statement that China's international airlines are on the march, particularly in one of their most important strategic markets.
American Airlines projects USD5 billion fuel cost savings in 2015, but flight crew costs to blow out
Despite heightened low cost competition in numerous markets that began in 4Q2014, American Airline recorded strong financial results and has opted to initiate a USD2 billion share repurchase set for completion in 2016, after finishing an initial USD1 billion buyback a year early.
Like its US airline rivals, American is projecting a soft unit revenue performance in 1Q2015 driven by the growing pressure from low cost airlines, higher aircraft density and some currency headwinds from the strengthening USD.
American’s projected decline is somewhat steeper than its rivals, but some of the pressure it experienced in certain geographies in 2014 should ease in 2H2015. At the same time the airline is projected to save a whopping USD5 billion in fuel expense during 2015, a benefit of its decision not to adopt a fuel hedging strategy.
Los Angeles International Airport has emerged as a battle ground for American Airlines and Delta Air Lines during the last couple of years as the market, while hugely fragmented, retains a high level of importance within the networks of most US major airlines.
But the success of each airline’s recent expansion in Los Angeles is tough to predict. Both American and Delta unsurprisingly declare that their operations in Los Angeles are successful; but the longevity of that success is difficult to predict given the tough competitive dynamics in the market.
The investments each airline is making in Los Angeles obviously carry some risk. But the scenario for American is a bit different given it does not have a true west coast hub for long-haul traffic, and the operating constraints in Los Angeles threaten to constrain its optimal growth path.
United Airlines continues a trajectory of improved fundamentals as changes undertaken in 2014 to shore up revenue that include re-banking and seasonal adjustments reach a full scale in 2015.
The airline sustained profitability for 4Q2014 and CY2014, and plans to keep its capacity growth at rates less than GDP despite the sharp decline in oil prices that has continued into 2015. Similar to rival Delta, United plans to use any extra cash generated from lower energy costs to accelerate balance sheet delivery and increase shareholder returns.
After enjoying a solid performance in its domestic entity throughout much of 2014, United observed some softness in the US domestic market near the end of 4Q2014 that is lingering into the beginning of 2015. The slowing US demand and several other factors are driving projected flat unit revenue growth for United in 1Q2015, but capacity discipline along with a favourable cost performance should help blunt some of the anticipated revenue pressure.
Japan has an extremely ambitious tourism target, to raise its 10 million visitor arrivals to 20 million in 2020 and 30 million in 2030. But these targets are in fact entirely feasible, and perhaps even conservative, given the stringent visa policies around regional Asia that only in recent times have been relaxed, but not fully liberalised.
Japan has achieved visitor growth of over 50% from Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam following relaxation of border formalities. These are Japan's smaller Asian markets but can contribute significantly to its growth needs, and diversify its arrival streams. Four North Asian markets – China, Hong Kong, Korea and Taiwan – account for two-thirds of Japan's total visitor arrivals.
China has the biggest growth opportunities of all and is the next to have its visa rules relaxed. The biggest beneficiaries will be Chinese airlines and, later, Japanese LCCs. Asian visitor growth will involve Japan shifting its focus away from long-haul markets: Asian visitors comprised 64% of arrivals in 2000, but are now up to 81%. Japan in 2010 was the third most popular outbound market for Chinese, but in 2013 slipped to seventh place, suggesting considerable upside.
The Hong Kong-Japan market will be 16% larger in Mar-2015 than a year prior. The market had experienced relatively flat performance earlier this decade, but a series of factors is changing the market. Japanese tourists to Hong Kong long outnumbered Hong Kong visitors to Japan, but the weakening yen is allowing Hong Kong visitors to Japan catch up to Japanese visitors to Hong Kong. The Hong Kong to Japan market has a leisure orientation, and fares are often lower than those ex-Japan. Growing LCCs can help meet Hong Kong demand and rejuvenate the Japanese market. LCCs are projected to comprise 19% of the Japan-Hong Kong in Mar-2015.
LCC penetration will reach 20% on the largest route between the two, Hong Kong-Tokyo, as Part 1 of this report outlined. This second part looks at the LCC presence in other Japanese markets, growth prospects and challenges. For Hong Kong-Fukuoka, 42% of seats will be provided by LCCs, while for Hong Kong-Osaka 30% of seats provided by LCCs. These are only a few routes and still modest shares compared to other regions, but growth opportunities may be capped by constrained slot availability.