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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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Monarch Airlines restructure 2: lower fuel, labour productivity drive return to profit. Risks remain
Part 1 of CAPA's analysis of Monarch's restructuring examined capacity cuts and the shrinking of the fleet and network. An obvious sign of success is that the Monarch Group and Monarch Airlines returned to profit in FY2015. The restructuring helped to stabilise load factor, reduce the seasonality in the business and improve its on-time performance. However, average daily aircraft utilisation continued to fall and load factor has fallen again in the first part of FY2016.
Part 2 of CAPA's analysis examines how the restructuring improved Monarch's financial performance. The return to profit by the UK LCC was driven both by a rise in unit revenue and a fall in unit cost – that cost itself helped by lower fuel prices and improved labour productivity.
Looking ahead, Monarch's Boeing 737MAX deliveries from 2018 should benefit the bottom line. However, in the meantime leisure-focused markets face considerable volatility from geopolitical and macroeconomic uncertainties, not helped by the UK's recent Brexit vote. Although back in profit, Monarch still needs shareholder support to fund its liquidity needs and there have been some reports – denied by the airline – that its owners may be considering a sale. The restructuring now gives it a base from which to address its challenges.
The privately owned Monarch Group no longer publishes a glossy annual report for all to see, a practice that has been discontinued since its 2014 acquisition by turnaround specialists Greybull Capital. Such reticence is sometimes a sign of having something to hide. Not so here; the group's statutory accounts for the year ended Oct-2015 were recently filed with the UK's Companies House. They show a strong return to profit for the Monarch Group, whose largest business is Monarch Airlines.
In the previous year, FY2014, the airline had grown too rapidly and plunged into a heavy loss, while the Monarch Group had almost run out of cash. A subsequent restructuring programme, devised by the management and backed by the new shareholders, sought to restore profitability. The FY2015 accounts demonstrate the success of the restructuring, which involved capacity cuts (mainly in the summer), fleet reduction, withdrawal from charter and long haul flying, a shrinking of the workforce and new labour contracts. With profits restored, Monarch is now growing once more.
This first part of CAPA's analysis of Monarch's restructuring examines the changes to its capacity, schedule network and fleet. Part 2 will consider its improved financial results and future prospects.
The British exit from the European Union will have a negative impact on UK air traffic as a result of weaker GBP – an immediate effect – and a weaker GDP outlook. Air freight is also likely to be negatively affected by lower levels of international trade. The impact on air traffic is also likely to be felt in the rest of Europe, while economists are also warning that Brexit adds to the uncertainties facing the global economy.
European airline share prices have been hard hit since the UK referendum result was announced early on 24-Jun-2016, particularly those of easyJet and British Airways' parent IAG. This reflects the likely lowering of demand, but also the significant regulatory uncertainty surrounding the sector, particularly with respect to market access.
UK membership of the European Common Aviation Area would preserve existing market access and is the expected route. However, UK political turmoil and question marks concerning its ongoing commitment to EU principles may compromise its access in the future. Profit warnings from IAG and easyJet point to at least a slowing of profit growth. It is difficult to see the world airline profit cycle continuing the upswing of recent years.
The 23-Jun-2016 UK vote in favour of British exit from the EU came as an enormous shock to observers, despite strong warnings from pollsters. The first implication is for an unwelcome period of uncertainty. But, as with any major shock of this sort, the immediate warnings of disaster and market collapse normally dissipate as thinking adjusts. Having passed the political silliness of leaving such a major and complex decision effectively to chance, the bureaucrats will now begin to pick up the pieces and work around the complexities.
There are numerous potential implications for the aviation sector - the most serious being that the withdrawal of the UK from EU decision making will allow the protectionist forces in Germany and France to become more influential in formulating EU policy directions. Otherwise, many of the potentials can probably be worked around, over time. Meanwhile, uncertainty remains the order of the day, while the lengthy unravelling occurs.
For consumers, the single aviation market and the US-EU Multilateral open skies agreement are the most immediate issues. For European services, the likely outcome is for the UK to negotiate single market access, as Norway and others have, through the ECAA, despite not being EU members. This would broadly maintain the status quo from a consumer perspective and the UK's airlines would retain full market access. Ironically though, they would have to comply with associated EU regulations, despite having no say in their formulation - the opposite of Brexit's supposed objective in giving the UK greater independence. And the North Atlantic agreement has become so important, for liberals and protectionists alike, that a UK disappearance is most unlikely.
(This unamended CAPA report was first published on 22-Jan-2016.) Opinion polls are notoriously volatile and unreliable predictors. Nevertheless, a recent opinion poll* in the UK has indicated that voters favouring a British exit from the European Union now number more than those favouring the status quo. Whether or not the poll is totally accurate, it indicates that a so-called "Brexit" is a serious possibility.
UK Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative government has promised UK citizens a referendum on this before the end of 2017. Meanwhile, he is attempting to renegotiate the UK's membership, so that he can then back a campaign to stay in the EU. He is now hopeful of securing a deal with the UK's European partners at EU summits in Feb-2016 or Mar-2016. This could pave the way for a referendum as soon as Jun-2016.
This Jan-2016 report considered the possible implications of a Brexit on the aviation industry in the UK and Europe, with a particular focus on airline traffic rights. Much will depend on how, and to what extent, a post-EU Britain chooses to replicate its existing access to the EU single market in aviation (and in other sectors). Suffice it to say - the situation is uncertain.
Flybe returned to profit in FY2016 – according to its latest definition of adjusted pre-tax profit, this was its first positive result since before its stock market flotation in 2010. Quibbles over profit definitions aside, it is apparent that Flybe's restructuring under CEO Saad Hammad since 2013 is continuing to make progress. Nevertheless, with an operating profit margin of just 1.4%, Flybe was one of the least profitable listed European airlines in 2015 (or nearest financial year).
Flybe is now into what Mr Hammad calls the 'Profitable Growth' phase of its turnaround. In FY2016 it returned to capacity and revenue growth after declines in the previous year. In FY2017 it is accelerating its capacity growth at a time when market conditions are producing very soft yields, but Flybe is determined to maintain cost discipline.
Of course, the achievement of profitability is only the first step in profitable growth. FY2016 will benefit from fuel cost tailwinds and this should help it to take the next step – even if it faces unit revenue headwinds.