Low Cost Carriers (LCCs)
A key structural change in aviation over the past decade has been the proliferation of low-cost carriers (LCCs). The low-cost model has overwhelmingly been the favoured mode of airline start-up over the period, and their spread around the world, into both short- and long-haul markets, has caused a fundamental shift in the competitive dynamic of the industry.
'Classic' characteristics of the low-cost model include:
- High seating density;
- High aircraft utilisation;
- Single aircraft type;
- Low fares, including very low promotional fares;
- Single class configuration;
- Point-to-point services;
- No (free) frills;
- Predominantly short- to medium-haul route structures;
- Frequent use of second-tier airports;
- Rapid turnaround time at airports.
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Among airports in Germany's Top 10 by passenger numbers, Berlin Schoenefeld was the fastest-growing in 2015. After declining between 2010 and 2013, its traffic then grew by 27% over two years. In the first three months of 2016 passenger numbers have grown by a further 43% year- on-year.
Berlin Schoenefeld is the smaller of the two airports in the Berlin system, yet its growth vastly outpaces the low single-digit rate of Berlin Tegel. Already an important base for easyJet in Germany, Schoenefeld has experienced recent rapid growth that has been mainly the result of expansion by Ryanair. Wizz Air has also entered Schoenefeld in 2016. Although easyJet's growth is much slower, it has announced that it will increase the number of aircraft based at the airport from nine to 10.
At the same time airberlin, based at neighbouring Tegel, is losing market share in the Berlin airport system. Although Germanwings is gaining share, this is merely substituting for its parent Lufthansa. By the situation at Schoenefeld, Berlin is a good illustration of how LCCs continue to take share from legacy airlines on intra-Europe routes.
TAP Portugal's new shareholder Atlantic Gateway Consortium, which includes David Neeleman, the Chairman of Brazilian LCC Azul, has prompted a number of changes. Atlantic Gateway's investment in Nov-2015 has led to a commercial relationship with Azul, giving TAP customers access to domestic destinations in Brazil and giving Azul customers access to TAP's Brazil-Portugal network. There are also signs that the two will reshuffle some routes between them as Azul commences European flights. Moreover, TAP will benefit by receiving aircraft previously ordered by Azul.
Although Atlantic Gateway originally took a 61% stake, it was subsequently agreed that this would be scaled back to 45%, with the Portuguese government regaining a 50% holding and 5% available for employees. An intriguing prospect now is that the Azul shareholder HNA Group may also become a TAP shareholder directly.
TAP reported a loss for 2015 but its ownership and long haul development are more assured now than for some time. Nevertheless, the erosion of its market share on European routes is an ongoing threat. The CEO of Ryanair, which is number two to TAP on Portugal-Western Europe, recently claimed that his airline would overtake it in Portugal in the next couple of years. A strategy to counter this threat is vital.
Reports that easyJet may be considering a bid for Monarch Airlines could herald a much anticipated wave of consolidation in Europe's LCC segment. The CEOs of both Lufthansa Group and Air France-KLM have indicated that they expect consolidation, while IAG has previously been active in this field, by acquiring Vueling in 2013.
This report compares the market structure of Europe's LCC segment with that of North America and considers the prospects for consolidation among European low cost airlines. As with the broader market, Europe's LCC segment is more fragmented than North America's. However, viewed as a market in its own right, it is more concentrated than the broader European market.
The two leading LCCs, Ryanair and easyJet, have almost half of all intra-Europe LCC seats between them (but Southwest has more than 60% of intra-North America LCC seats on its own). Notwithstanding speculation about easyJet and Monarch, whose Europe seat share is only 2%, any meaningful LCC consolidation in Europe seems more likely to involve second-tier LCCs. This may include the LCC subsidiaries of the legacy groups, although none of the big three appear ready to lead the process currently.
After two years in which the Aegean Airlines Group had the highest operating margin among European full service airlines, its crown slipped in 2015. Its financial results for the year show a fall in operating profit and in net profit.
Double-digit capacity growth in a very weak macroeconomic environment, and in the face of strong competition led by Ryanair, put downward pressure on unit revenue. Aegean was unable to cut its total unit cost enough to offset falling RASK, in spite of lower fuel prices and some progress with ex fuel unit cost reduction, including improved labour productivity.
Nevertheless, although Aegean's operating margin slipped it remained fairly healthy at very close to 10%. Moreover, given the very challenging conditions faced in 2015, the group did well to limit the decline in the way that it managed. In 2016, slower capacity growth may ease downward pressure on unit revenue and the bottom line should benefit further from lower fuel prices post hedging, but Aegean will be focusing on reducing ex fuel unit cost.
Part 1 of the report on the ways full service airlines can regain short haul market share from LCCs considered more detailed issues at the 'coal face' of the business. These included pricing strategy, ancillary revenues, the approach to cost reduction, changes to the product and service and, crucially, how to gain the support of employees.
This second part looks at three higher-level issues, namely distribution strategy, establishing new business models and the use of partnerships. Both parts of the report are based on themes arising from a panel discussion under the chairmanship of Professor Rigas Doganis at the CAPA Airlines in Transition conference in Dublin on 10 and 11-Mar-2016, and the related votes taken on these topics by delegates.
Since CAPA's first Airlines in Transition event four years ago, there has been considerable movement in the business models of both LCCs and FSCs, mostly towards each other. In spite of the emergence of a hybrid model, LCCs still have a unit cost advantage and FSCs still face a competitive challenge. However, LCC seat share has levelled off since 2013.
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.