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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Kenny Jacobs, Ryanair's Chief Marketing Officer, has said that its website aims to become the "Amazon of air travel". The airline that was built around selling seats on flights as cheaply as possible – and not much else – now wants to sell a much wider range of products and services. In Oct-2016 it launched its new accommodation service, Ryanair Rooms, and it plans Ryanair Holidays by next summer.
Now well into its third year, Ryanair's 'Always Getting Better' programme (abbreviated to 'AGB') has been a demonstrable success. Accompanied by a move to increase Ryanair's presence in primary airports, AGB has aimed to improve customer service and reinvigorate its digital interfaces. Since AGB was initiated in 2014 Ryanair's passenger numbers have returned to double-digit rates of growth, and load factor has gained more than 10ppts.
Turkey's fifth largest airline by seat capacity, LCC Onur Air, has thrown its operation into reverse. After growing scheduled seat numbers at an average rate of 11% pa for four years, including growth at around 20% for most of 2016, it will cut capacity by 20% this winter.
A series of geopolitical events has weighed heavily on demand for air travel in Turkey, particularly in international travel. Weak trading conditions have also prompted the market leaders – national airline Turkish Airlines and LCC Pegasus – to halt their own rapid growth. Onur Air is bigger in the domestic market than it is in the international market, but much of its 2016 expansion was driven by international growth, particularly to Germany.
Onur's network faces strong competition on almost every route, particularly on international routes, and this has clearly posed a severe challenge in the face of falling demand.
Romania aviation Part 3: Blue Air opens Liverpool base and creates new markets; TAROM feels the heat
CAPA's first two parts of this analysis of Romanian aviation and the country's leading airlines highlighted the rapid, LCC-fuelled growth in the market of the past two years. The home-grown LCC Blue Air has overtaken the national airline TAROM in passenger numbers and fleet size, although Wizz Air is the largest airline in the market and Ryanair is also growing fast in the country. This third part of the analysis considers respective route networks and the competitive positions of TAROM and Blue Air.
Blue Air announced in Oct-2016 that it will establish a base in Liverpool in 2017, with new routes from the UK city to a range of European destinations outside Romania. This is a sign that Blue Air is taking the fight to airlines such as Ryanair and easyJet as it embraces the pan-European LCC model. Blue Air CEO Gheorghe Racaru has said, "The UK is a strategic market for Blue Air and we strongly believe that basing a 737-800 at Liverpool will allow us to strengthen our position as one of Europe’s fastest growing airlines".
For its part, TAROM, loss-making in contrast with Blue Air's profitability, is embarking on a restructuring following a change of management. It is facing increased competition on its network, while Blue Air has targeted its growth on routes where competitors are scarce or non-existent.
The first part of CAPA's analysis of the aviation market in Romania examined its rapid growth, driven by LCCs. Romania has become an important battleground for two foreign airlines – Wizz Air (the biggest airline in the country) and Ryanair. Local low cost airline Blue Air is also growing rapidly, while Romania's government-owned national airline, TAROM, is stagnating.
This second report on the Romanian aviation market looks at the country's two main home-grown airlines, in particular the development of their capacity and fleet. Traffic data for the two are scarce but it seems that Blue Air, which commenced operations in 2004, is now larger than TAROM by number of annual passengers carried.
After a change of ownership in 2013 Blue Air seems to have been revitalised and has adopted a more pan-European strategy, with bases in Turin and Larnaca and a base planned for Liverpool in 2017. Its growth has also been prompted by the aggressive expansion of Wizz Air and Ryanair in Romania. Blue Air, now bigger than TAROM, became a full member of IATA in Jan-2016.
Part three of CAPA's analysis will present details of the respective route networks and competitive positions of TAROM and Blue Air.
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.