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Latvia’s aviation industry is composed of two large civil aviation companies and several small flight and airport operators, as well as airport service companies. The sector is expanding on the basis of an increasing number of airport services and private airports. The national carrier is the majority state-owned airBaltic, based at Riga International Airport, which operates services to destinations throughout Europe and to the CIS.
Airports in Latvia
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Wizz Air: city pair overlap with Ryanair on one third of seats. Opportunities for both; CASK crucial
Wizz Air and Ryanair are Europe's two lowest cost airlines, and most profitable airlines by operating margin. Together with Pegasus they form a small group of European ultra-LCCs. Unlike Pegasus, whose business concentrates on Turkey-Europe and domestic Turkey, both Wizz Air and Ryanair have bases in several countries.
However, while Ryanair is Europe's largest airline by seats, with a pan-European network and 84 bases, Wizz Air focuses on the niche between Central/Eastern Europe and Western Europe. All of Wizz Air's 25 bases are in Central/Eastern Europe, where it is the largest airline and Ryanair is number two. This superiority in CEE is based on Wizz Air's greater share of capacity in most of the larger country markets in the region (but not Poland), while in fact Ryanair is bigger in more (mainly smaller) countries.
In Jul-2016 Wizz Air faces Ryanair competition on 14% of its city pairs, covering 30% of its seats. Moreover, Ryanair is expanding rapidly in CEE, with five new bases this winter, increasing this overlap to around one third of Wizz Air's capacity. For Ryanair, the overlap represents a higher proportion of its CEE capacity, but only a very small share of its total seat numbers.
CAPA Airlines in Transition. How FSCs can regain short haul share from LCCs Part 1: at the coal face
From the time when the penny finally dropped for full service airlines – that LCCs were not in fact going away – full service airlines have sought many ways, usually without great success, to counter the erosion of their short haul operations by the new entrant, lower-cost, specialist point-to-point airlines. The impact has been not only on their regional operations, but usually also on their global network, since short haul services feed into their hubs, fattening long haul loads.
This was more or less tolerable while the competition on long haul transferring over their hub was stable and their alliances, global and bilateral, were able to protect them. Then the super connectors (Gulf airlines and Turkish) came along disturbing the comfortable equilibrium, and in turn placing renewed importance on short haul.
At the CAPA Airlines in Transition conference in Dublin on 10 and 11-Mar-2016, a "Board" under the chairmanship of Professor Rigas Doganis considered how a full service airline's board should respond to the loss of short haul share. Their deliberations were then voted on by delegates. This is the first part of two reports on the issues raised.
There are few countries where an outright charter carrier is the de facto national flag carrier.
But that is the case in Lithuania where a succession of failed scheduled carriers contrasts with a relatively new airline that sells seats exclusively to tour operators, in several countries across continents, is expanding almost exponentially, has one of the lowest CASKs in Europe, isn't highly leveraged, and is profitable.
That is far from the only surprising thing about Lithuania though, a country that is privatising its airports without really privatising them and which, is only just beginning to wake up to its tourism potential.
LOT Polish Airlines' plan to more than double passenger numbers to 10 million in 2020 will bring significant growth to its base airport, Warsaw Chopin. LOT's aspirations to be the hub carrier for the "New Europe" will elevate Chopin airport to competing with Budapest, Prague and Vienna to be a hub for Central Europe.
LOT's growth is important to Warsaw Chopin, but is not the sole story. Chopin grew traffic while LOT restructured, while passenger numbers declined and then stayed flat. Second largest carrier Wizz Air is growing its presence and could introduce connections. Ryanair meanwhile is at Warsaw's LCC airport, Modlin, contributing 60% growth in the first five months of 2015.
Although Warsaw Chopin finished an expansion programme in May-2015, further works are needed to support LOT's growth, especially with widebodies. Emirates will up-gauge its existing daily service before presumably later considering a second daily flight. The bigger challenge to LOT and Warsaw is Lufthansa and its German hubs, which have grown as LOT shrank, especially in secondary Polish cities.
Wizz Air CEO Josef Varadi told a recent meeting of the Aviation Club in London that he ran a very disciplined airline. "We never grow for growth's sake", he said, explaining that the airline had clear financial targets and that growth was an output from this process.
Earlier this year, Wizz Air pulled out of a planned initial public offering (IPO) of its shares, which would have seen it floated on the London Stock Exchange. Investor appetite was dulled by geopolitical issues, a fuel price spike and profit warnings from other airlines, rather than any problems at the airline itself. Indeed, its most recent accounts show that it is now one of Europe's most profitable airlines, with significant cash reserves. An IPO could come back onto the agenda, but, Mr Varadi said, "we are not desperate".
Its results have not always been strong in the 10 years since its 2004 launch, but our analysis of its accounts suggests that it is now on a firm footing, supporting Mr Varadi's claim that "financial performance is at the core of the airline – we are not doing it for charity".
airBaltic settles into Etihad partnership for Africa, Middle East & Asia – North America may be next
airBaltic is quietly pleased with initial performance from its partnership with Etihad Airways, under which airBaltic commenced Riga-Abu Dhabi service in Dec-2013. Less than three months on, airBaltic is still observing trends in the proportion of local versus connecting traffic, but Bangkok is an early popular onward destination. CEO Martin Gauss told CAPA that Latvia's growing portfolio of air service agreements can expand the number of codeshares it can place on Etihad flights, enabling airBaltic to sell flights from Riga to the Middle East, Africa and Asia – a potentially huge area it previously had no access to, with its local market base instead using competing airlines.
As Etihad rapidly digests its Darwin Airline and Jet Airways equity stakes and evaluates Alitalia, speculation has mounted on airBaltic being a potential equity partner. Mr Gauss says the first priority for the airline is growing the codeshare – which so far is more important to airBaltic than Etihad – but he does not rule out any possibilities. More concretely in the medium term is gaining better access to North America, with airBaltic considering if a North American carrier can serve Riga and partner with airBaltic, or if airBaltic should serve North America with its own metal. The trans-Atlantic market is appealing but also competitive with joint ventures, and Mr Gauss is not rushing to enter.