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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.
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The Cathay Pacific Group has reported a rise in profit but has only moved from a meagre 2.1% operating margin to a weak 3.1%. The outlook continues to be subdued as Cathay largely banks on time: for the A350's Feb-2016 arrival to reduce costs and Hong Kong's forthcoming runway saturation to limit direct competition. But even then markets will be more competitive and Cathay will be sharing space in North Asia with more airlines, with improving brands, than in the past.
Cathay Pacific managed 5.3% ASK growth but this came at the expense of a 3.5% drop in yields. North America, Cathay's largest market, saw yields decline 4.4%, and this over-capacity market will get worse – possibly well into 2015. Only Europe saw gains across capacity, load factor and yield. Freight continues to be a problem and dedicated freighters are losing emphasis as Cathay carried as much freight in passenger aircraft bellies as dedicated freighters. Increasing costs are also a problem but Cathay is becoming less worried about Jetstar Hong Kong, although Chairman John Slosar repeated vague statements that Jetstar could not have "free use" of Hong Kong rights "without giving up" unspecified interests – possibly Australian bilateral access – in exchange. Nonetheless, Cathay is growing in its third largest long-haul market of Australia through seat density and up-gauging.
Cebu Pacific Air’s long-haul unit is entering a new phase of growth which will also see it evolve to pursue more transit traffic. Cebu Pacific initially envisioned a pure LCC model for its long-haul low-cost unit, relying almost entirely on point to point traffic, but is now looking to build up connections, particularly to feed its new Manila-Sydney route.
In Sept-2014 Sydney and Kuwait will become Cebu Pacific’s second and third long-haul destinations after Dubai, where its performance has improved in recent months following a dismal start in 4Q2013. The carrier’s A330 fleet, which now consists of four aircraft with a fifth to be added by the end of Aug-2014, has until now been primarily used to upgauge short-haul routes.
The upcoming launch of services to Australia and Kuwait will be followed by Saudi Arabia in 4Q2014 and Hawaii in early 2015. Sharjah may also be launched in 2015 as Cebu Pacific considers leasing additional A330s.
Air Canada’s record profitability in 2Q2014 is being undermined by a decline in the airline’s yield performance, resulting in the airline defending its strategy of improving its bottom line by an increased stage length and a higher proportion of economy seating.
The underlying philosophy is that Air Canada is creating a framework for unit cost to decline at a greater level than yields and unit revenues as it works to reduce its unit cost, excluding fuel, by 15% from CY2012 levels in the medium term.
It may take some time for the market to understand Air Canada’s tactics; but the airline’s 2Q2014 results seem to indicate there is merit to the airline’s efforts to meet its goals of long standing profitability.
American Airlines joined its US network airline peers in recording strong financial results during 2Q2014, and similar to Delta and United, saw particular strength in the US domestic market.
Also similar to Delta and United, American has concluded that there is some excess capacity on the trans-Atlantic markets, and has joined its peers in refining its capacity targets in that region for the remainder of 2014.
American in particular is bracing for headwinds from a reduction in service to Venezuela in 3Q2014, which will ultimately result in unit revenue performance below Delta and United. That pressure is continuing through 4Q2014.
Despite some geographical pockets of concern, American overall has a positive view of the demand environment, and is also joining its fellow network airlines in defining new shareholder rewards.
One of Air Canada’s key strategic initiatives during the next few years is to solidify its presence as Canada’s leading international airline, and its execution of that strategy is now more important than ever after rival WestJet has made the first concrete steps in acquiring widebody aircraft.
Part of Air Canada’s efforts in maximising higher-yielding international traffic is wresting sixth freedom flows away from the US to its Canadian hubs. This is particularly important over Toronto where the groundwork is in place to allow for seamless connections to Air Canada’s long-haul flights to Asia and Europe.
Air Canada believes that if it succeeds in capturing its projected share of the international transit traffic, it could generate CAD400 million (USD371 million) in annual revenue. But US airlines are improving their onboard product and bolstering long-haul flights, adding new challenges to Air Canada’s transit passenger scheme.
The number of Chinese outbound tourists in 2014 will likely exceed 100 million, more than the population of Germany and nearing the population of Japan. Yet this will still account for less than 10% of China's population taking one international trip a year. Importantly too, the growth rate is very high.
These are obviously market-changing opportunities for airlines, especially in North Asia, where most Chinese travel to when going abroad. But in the short term the opportunities are mixed for countries as overseas Chinese tourists shift destination preferences.
This first of a two-part report looks at Chinese demand for travel to Northeast Asia, where growth is generally positive. Japan experienced challenges in late 2012 and early 2013 as political tensions saw visitor arrivals dramatically fall; Japan has since rebounded. South Korea was a beneficiary and continues to maintain momentum; Chinese visitor arrivals are up 57% in the first five months of 2014.
The second part of this China tourism report will look at Southeast Asia, where tourism figures have recently softened.