United States of America
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Air Travel is frequently the most practical method of covering the large distances between cities in the USA. The domestic air system is extensive, with dozens of competing airlines, hundreds of airports and thousands of flights daily. The US is the world's largest aviation market. Domestic airlines have mostly rebounded since September 11. Delta (now merged with Northwest), United (merged with Continental) and US Airways (merged with American) have each entered and emerged from bankruptcy still flying, though mergers and downsizing have had an impact on the travel experience. The US has three major international airlines that function in a similar manner and size as a national carrier; American Airlines, United-Continental Airlines Holdings and Delta Air Lines. The expansion of LCCs such as Southwest Airlines, Virgin America and JetBlue has increased competition and lowered prices domestically and in some cross-border markets.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is an agency of the United States Department of Transportation with authority to regulate and oversee all aspects of civil aviation in the US. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is the government agency responsible for security in all modes of transportation and is solely responsible for carrying out screening of passengers and their baggage (both checked and carry-on) at 450 airports across the US.
Airports in United States of America
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Significantly lower fuel costs were a major driver in the outcome of the four main US low cost airlines – Southwest, jetBlue, Alaska and Virgin America – posting significantly lower unit costs year-on-year in 2015. According to CAPA’s CASK database, most of those airlines posted double-digit decreases as the average decrease in top-line fuel expense among those airlines was 31% year-on-year.
Most of those airlines should continue to record a favourable unit cost performance in 2016 as fuel costs, while rising, will remain below historic highs. Southwest, which has recently forged a new contract agreement in principle with its pilots after years of long and tense negotiations, may need to refine its current cost forecast if the deal is ratified. jetBlue has revised its cost forecast downward slightly during 2016, while Alaska on a stand-alone basis should continue to post a solid cost performance.
Over the course of the next one to two years Southwest is likely to ratify agreements with three of its major labour groups – pilots, flight attendants and mechanics. If the pay raises in the tentative pilot deal are an indication of salary increases for other work groups, Southwest is likely to find itself outside the cost boundaries of a traditional low cost airline.
The deployment of new generation ultra-long-range widebody aircraft is prompting several airlines to plan new nonstop services between Southeast Asia and the continental US. New variants of the A350 have particularly emerged as a new, more efficient and popular option for Southeast Asia-US flights, with orders over the past year from three Southeast Asian flag carriers.
On 5-Sep-2016 Vietnam Airlines became the latest Southeast Asian airline to commit to new generation ultra-long-range aircraft capable of new nonstop routes – joining Philippine Airlines and Singapore Airlines. Garuda Indonesia and Thai Airways are likely to follow, resulting in four Southeast Asian airlines operating nonstop flights to the US by early next decade, compared with only one currently.
Delta Air Lines may also join United Airlines with nonstop Southeast Asia-US services. There are opportunities in the Southeast Asia-US market for nonstop routes, but competition with one-stop products will be intense. Profitability will be heavily challenged or non-existent. SIA started the trend due to strategic, not financial, imperatives. Under the charm of low fuel prices, Southeast Asian airlines risk falling into the spell of "me too" nonstop flights, just as they did with over-sized aircraft acquisitions.
All-premium UK-US airlines. BA cuts LCY frequency; La Compagnie quits LTN; Odyssey to launch in 2017
There have been two notable recent developments in the market for all-business class services on the North Atlantic: British Airways is to reduce its London City-JFK A318 frequencies and France's La Compagnie is to withdraw from Luton-Newark to concentrate its 74-seat Boeing 757 operations on Paris-Newark (its only other route).
BA's 32-seat London City operation has been suffering from significant load factor declines, particularly on the outbound flights. These flights make a refuelling stop in Shannon, where passengers can pre-clear US customs, but this may not be a sufficient incentive for some passengers to take an indirect flight. La Compagnie expressed concerns about uncertainties in the UK post-Brexit, but its route economics must anyway have been struggling, due to Luton's lack of suitability as a premium market and its lack of feed.
So far there has been no reaction to these developments from the new-start Odyssey Airlines, which plans to launch an all-business class London City-New York service in 2017. It will no doubt be attempting to find a balance between relief that its level of competition has reduced, and some anxiety that its launch may coincide with a softening of market demand.
The three large US global network airlines – American, Delta and United – are all at different phases of their respective balance sheet evolutions. Delta is enjoying its newly minted status of reaching investment grade according to two ratings agencies; United has decided to expand its level of shareholder returns after lagging its peers in that metric during its still ongoing merger integration. Even after recently deferring some Airbus widebody orders, American remains in the middle of a significant fleet revamp. The company is also still completing certain facets of its merger integration with US Airways, which is one driver for American’s larger cash balances compared with its global network peers.
Each of the three airlines seems to be striving for the right balance of investment in their businesses – maintaining a robust balance sheet and delivering ample shareholder returns. The difference is in the strategies followed.
Vietnam Airlines has become the latest Southeast Asian airline to commit to new ultra-long range aircraft enabling the launch of nonstop flights to the continental US. Vietnam Airlines has acquired 10 higher gross weight A350-900s, which are capable of operating nonstop Los Angeles to Ho Chi Minh even in strong headwinds, from 2020.
Vietnam Airlines has been preparing for flights to the US for several years and now finally has committed to acquiring an aircraft capable of launching its preferred US route. Several US routes are possible but Ho Chi Minh-Los Angeles is by far biggest Vietnam-US city pair with over 100,000 annual one-way passengers.
Vietnam Airlines will join Philippine Airlines, Singapore Airlines and United Airlines – and likely Garuda Indonesia and Thai Airways – in operating nonstop flights from Southeast Asia to the continental US. New generation aircraft have opened up new opportunities to operate Southeast Asia-US fights economically but overcoming intense one-stop competition will be a challenge.
China Southern Airlines may be Asia's largest airline, but it has one of the smallest long haul networks. China Southern has shifted growth to international markets, which represented only 17% of capacity in 2009 but doubled to 34% in 2016. Its long haul plank has been Australia and New Zealand, funnelling traffic from around China down to its southern hub at Guangzhou. China Southern has met its objectives for Australia/NZ and now turns its focus to the market that has preoccupied most other Northeast Asian airlines: North America.
China Southern plans to increase flights from five daily to 11 daily, about the size that ANA is today – and larger than Air China and China Eastern. Although China Southern can build on the principle of using Guangzhou as a North-South hub, North America is a radically different proposition. Guangzhou's southern positioning limits exposure to the Chinese market that China Southern knows best. China Southern will need to target connections to Southeast Asia and India, which have only been a small component of Air China and China Eastern's network.