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The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Island spans an archipelago including Great Britain, the northeastern part of the island of Ireland, and many small islands. Aviation is a major UK industry, carrying over 180 million passengers a year and over 2.1 million tonnes of freight. England’s domestic airlines include British Airways (the nation’s flag carrier), Virgin Atlantic, BMI Regional, Flybe, EasyJet and Ryanair. The British capital, London is a global transport hub. In recent years, the massive growth of LCCs has increased the number of routes and reduced the fares between the UK and continental Europe. London’s main airports for international flights are Heathrow and Gatwick. Luton and Stansted airports deal largely with charter and budget European flights, and London City Airport specialises in business flights.
The Civil Aviation Authority is the UK's independent specialist aviation regulator. Its activities include economic regulation, airspace policy, safety regulation and consumer protection. Unlike many countries, there is no direct Government funding of the CAA - its costs are met entirely from charges levied on those whom it regulates. Under the EU’s Single European Sky initiative the design, management and regulation of airspace will be coordinated throughout the European Union with the aim of using air traffic management that is more closely based on desired flight patterns leading to greater safety, efficiency and capacity.
Airports in United Kingdom
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Most airlines in Europe make losses in the winter. It was a sign of the strength of easyJet's business model and the success of CEO Dame Carolyn McCall's leadership that its 1H loss (Oct to Mar, coinciding with the winter) narrowed every year from FY2011 until it made a profit in 1H2015. Alas, its return to loss in 1H2016 puts it back among most airlines in this respect.
The airline's FY2016 outlook is slightly more positive; all its profits come in 2H, the summer, and modest earnings growth is expected. Moreover, its high margins set it apart from most airlines, as does its plan to pay 50% of net profit as dividends to shareholders.
The deterioration in easyJet's 1H result was due to falling unit revenue – a persistent problem. In spite of lower fuel prices, cost per seat did not fall fast enough in 1H to offset this. Revenue per seat was adversely affected by geopolitical events and currency movements, but it is becoming increasingly apparent that easyJet faces a challenge to grow its revenue per seat. Its load factor is already about as high as it can get, and easyJet is currently unable to drive pricing up.
IAG's financial results for 1Q2016 are the first indication from a leading European legacy airline group of how this year is working out financially. For IAG the seasonally weak first quarter went well, with operating profit increasing by more than six times and the net result recording a rare positive figure.
Unit revenue weakness, seen in 2015, continued into 1Q2016 and accelerated its fall after the Brussels terrorist attacks. Coming relatively soon after the Paris attacks, this event may have a slightly longer impact than previous incidents of this nature. IAG's unit cost fell more rapidly than unit revenue, thanks to lower fuel prices. With pricing expected to remain a little softer than previously anticipated, IAG is accelerating cost measures and expects underlying ex fuel unit cost to fall by 1% in FY2016.
IAG still expects more than EUR900 million of year-on-year operating profit improvement in 2016, with a further margin increase. The IAG group is already the most profitable of Europe's three leading legacy airline groups, and the gap looks set to widen this year.
bmi regional is launching four new routes from Munich, doubling the number of routes that it operates there and making the airport its biggest base this summer. This is part of an ongoing transformation of bmi regional, which will become Germany's number three commuter/regional airline by seats, in addition to holding the same position in the UK.
For a small airline, bmi regional is handling quite radical change. Half of its 22 routes this summer are new since early 2015. After bmi's capacity cut and trimming of the network in 2014, 2016 will be the airline's second successive year of double-digit growth, data from OAG suggest. Its network has changed greatly since its years as a Lufthansa-owned Star hub feeder, although it retains important codeshare relationships with Lufthansa.
In Apr-2015 bmi regional was acquired by Airline Investments Limited, which also owns the Scotland-based regional airline Loganair. Bmi's results for the financial year to Mar-2016, its first under this new owner, are not yet available, but the airline did manage to narrow its loss in the previous year. Analysis of bmi regional's financial progress will be the subject of a future CAPA report, while this one focuses on its route network.
Virgin Atlantic and Flybe, both back into profit after periods of losses, will launch a new codeshare from 2-April-2016. The agreement involves 19 short haul routes operated by Flybe, both domestic UK and international. These will connect into 15 Virgin routes from the UK to the US and Caribbean at all three UK airports outside Virgin's main Heathrow hub, namely Manchester, Glasgow and Gatwick.
The deal gives Virgin access to feed from 12 UK domestic routes and seven UK-Europe routes. This helps it to address its lack of short haul feed, albeit in a different way from the now defunct Little Red operation that only brought domestic traffic into Heathrow. Virgin's Delta relationship has changed its priorities in this regard. The codeshare also offers Flybe, which has gradually expanded its codeshare strategy in recent years, the potential for additional demand from passengers connecting to long haul leisure destinations.
Not long after Saad Hammad joined Flybe as CEO in 2013 he launched a restructuring and rebranding that he called the 'purple way'. Virgin Atlantic will be hoping that purple is a better colour than red for its short haul needs.
On 9-Feb-2016, British Airways announced the addition of London Stansted to its airport network from May-2016. It will be BA's fourth London airport after Heathrow, Gatwick and City. At first glance, this move does not appear significant. BA's four leisure routes from Stansted will make it the airline's 196th biggest airport, taking just 0.03% of its 2016 summer peak seats (week of 1-Aug-2016, source: OAG).
However, BA's decision is noteworthy for one simple reason. More than any other airport, Stansted has been synonymous with the rise of LCCs in Europe. The scourge of legacy airlines across the continent, LCCs contributed to BA's near-death experience in the years after 9/11, when it fell into loss. The most successful LCC incarnation, Ryanair, has more than 80% of seats at Stansted.
Just a few years ago, during the global financial crisis, BA was again loss-making and would not have had the temerity to enter Ryanair's stronghold. Now, emboldened on the strength of its highest ever operating margin in 2015, BA seems prepared to take on all comers. It is taking only a very small step into Stansted, but every journey starts with a step.
In 2015 IAG achieved a return on invested capital of 12.7% against its estimated cost of capital of 10%, giving it the rare distinction among European legacy airline groups of creating economic value for investors. As with other airlines its 2015 results were helped by lower fuel prices, but IAG's strong improvement owes much to its determination to stick to its goals.
It was the first (arguably the only) airline among the larger European legacy groups to tackle labour cost restructuring. In addition, its 2013 acquisition of Vueling gave it an advantage over Air France-KLM and Lufthansa in dealing with the short/medium haul threat from LCCs. On long haul, it has avoided anti-Gulf airline rhetoric with its Qatar Airways partnership, including codeshare and an equity stake. On the North Atlantic, it is now benefitting from its acquisition of Aer Lingus.
There is more to do. Although Iberia's restructuring has been impressive, its returns still lag those of other IAG airlines. Labour unit costs increased at both British Airways and Vueling in 2015. Moreover, IAG's profitability falls short of its own targets for 2016-2020, and the profitability achieved by the leading European LCCs. Nevertheless, it can be substantially pleased with its progress.