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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
188 total articles
CAPA's previous analysis of the 3Q2016 results of Europe's big three legacy airline groups highlighted a fall in their collective operating margin, after growth in 1H2016. This report shows that Europe's five leading LCCs, in aggregate, also suffered a fall in profit and margin in the quarter.
Three of the five – Ryanair, Norwegian and Wizz Air – improved their profit margin in the quarter, but easyJet's drop in margin was heavy enough to bring down the collective result. Pegasus' margin also declined.
Nevertheless, the LCC five remain collectively far more profitable than the legacy three. Moreover Europe's two most profitable airlines, Ryanair and Wizz Air, look set to increase their margin lead this year. Even easyJet, which has had a bad year by its standards, achieved a higher margin for calendar 9M2016 than the most profitable of the big three legacy groups, which was IAG.
The divergence of results in the European sector suggest that not all airlines are following the same cycle. However the collective margin decline for the continent's leading LCCs, and its major legacy airline groups, at least gives reason to question whether or not the cyclical upswing may have run its course.
In spite of challenging market conditions and falling profits, easyJet remains on the offensive in its fight for market share with legacy airlines. It is also making contingency plans to apply for an EU AOC to ensure continued intra-European traffic rights in the post-Brexit future.
easyJet's revenue per seat, pre-tax profit and return on capital employed all fell in FY2016 (year to Sep-2016), the first reversal since before CEO Dame Carolyn McCall took the helm in FY2010. In spite of lower fuel prices, easyJet could not lower its cost per seat fast enough to offset the drop in unit revenue. Load factor was just above flat at 91.6%, so the drop in revenue per seat was all price-related. A series of external events put pressure on pricing – including terrorism, ATC strikes and the UK's Brexit vote.
Some airlines might tighten their capacity growth in the face of weak pricing, but easyJet plans to accelerate its seat growth from 6% in FY2016 to 9% in FY2017. It has its sights on an opportunity to take share from legacy airlines in airports where it already has a strong market position.
IAG's Capital Markets Day on 4-Nov-2016 was the first since its formation in 2011 when it lowered any of its medium term financial targets. It cut its 2016-2020 average EBITDAR goal, in spite of adding in Aer Lingus for the first time. This followed two cuts to 2016 operating profit guidance during the course of this year, as a result of "a tough operating environment". It has been hit by adverse currency movements, mainly resulting from the UK's Brexit vote, in addition to ATC strikes and terrorist events.
To its credit, IAG has responded to the more challenging trading conditions by lowering its planned capacity growth and capital expenditure during its 2016-2020 strategic plan. These steps are necessary if it is to have a chance of meeting its ambitious goal to sustain a 15% return on invested capital. This target is unchanged, despite the lower profit outlook.
In 3Q2016, IAG's rolling four quarter return on capital fell, after rising more or less continuously since it began to target this measure in 2013. It has consistently been more profitable than either of its two main European legacy airline group rivals (Air France-KLM and Lufthansa). Nevertheless, the downward step highlights the challenge in meeting its own demanding target.
Flybe: largest regional airline in Europe leads the airline capacity growth charge in winter 2016/17
The surprise departure of Flybe CEO Saad Hammad on 26-Oct-2016 "by mutual agreement" raises questions about the future strategic direction of Europe's largest regional airline. Mr Hammad joined in Aug-2013 and implemented a restructuring programme, returning Flybe to profit in FY2016 (March year end).
Capacity reduction during the restructuring has been followed by a period of accelerating growth. So much so that Flybe is Europe's fastest-growing airline group among the top 20 in Europe by seat numbers this winter, with an increase of 19%. CAPA has identified 45 new Flybe routes in calendar 2016 (compared with a late summer total of 165), on the majority of which Flybe has no airline competitor.
Despite low competition on its network, Flybe's FY2016 operating margin was one of the lowest among listed European airlines and coincided with weakening unit revenue. Pricing has softened further, not least due to uncertainties such as Brexit, just as Flybe's capacity growth has accelerated.
Until a replacement for Mr Hammad is found, Flybe's Chairman Simon Laffin will assume executive responsibility. Significant strategic change may be unlikely in the interim, but a key question for the next CEO will be whether to continue with such aggressive capacity growth in the face of falling fares.
On 25-Oct-2016 the UK government announced its support for a new runway at London Heathrow Airport. There is still a lengthy set of processes to be observed before a new runway at Heathrow can finally be built. Moreover, opponents are likely to fight a fierce battle to try to prevent it. Even Heathrow Airport does not expect the runway to open before 2025. 2030 is more likely.
Airlines at Heathrow, led by British Airways and its parent IAG, have given a muted welcome to the UK government's decision. However, they are very clear that they do not wish to see airport charges increase as a result. IAG in particular has long been adamant that it will not pay for the expansion through tariff increases at Heathrow. The airport is among the most expensive in the world and its aeronautical yield rose 2.5 times from 2007 to 2014.
The UK government has set its aim on keeping landing charges close to current levels. Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye said that the expansion would provide an airport that is fair and affordable; but history suggests that the airport and its leading airline may define these terms differently. However, as this report demonstrates, IAG has other hubs and other airlines that give it alternative growth options.
An agreement between China and the UK to more than double their air service agreement is good timing for both sides. Chinese airlines are finding an imbalance: they are taking delivery of widebody aircraft and more Chinese airlines are flying long haul but traffic rights to major markets – the US, Canada, Germany and France – are becoming depleted. Negotiations to add traffic rights have not succeeded, typically due to the foreign side being concerned about accessing Chinese slots or Russian overflight rights.
The agreement with the UK to expand the number of weekly passenger flights from each side from 40 to 100 reflects considerable pragmatism on the part of the UK: British Airways and Virgin Atlantic are not growing in China, and China is a large growth opportunity. The UK has lagged on Chinese tourism. It was only in 2015 that China became the UK's largest inbound market.