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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France's traditionally conservative aviation policy has meant that air services have focussed around Paris. The result is that there are few large airports outside the capital.
Moreover, the privatisation of France’s airports has been a long drawn out, stop-start process, which involved Aeroports de Paris at one end of the scale and a number of secondary level airports serving small cities at the other.
Sat patiently in the middle have been the primary level airports (only one of which handles more than 10 million ppa despite that designation).
But with the forthcoming privatisation of Toulouse Blagnac airport their time may have come at last.
After four successive quarters of year on year declines in its underlying operating result, Pegasus Airlines reported an increase in 3Q2014. Its operating margin was at the same level as 3Q2013, after falling in 1H, and second in Europe only to Ryanair (of those to report thus far).
As always, Pegasus' results are complicated by foreign exchange, especially as Turkey's currency has weakened against EUR and USD. Expressed in its functional currency of EUR, rather than its reporting currency of TRY, Pegasus' CASK (cost per available seat km) edged up slightly in 3Q, reversing the decline of 1H. Fortunately, RASK (revenue per available seat km) also increased at a similar rate, ending a four quarter falling trend. This was helped by a relative slowing of its capacity growth in addition to less aggressive pricing by Turkish Airlines at Sabiha Gökçen.
Pegasus has reiterated its FY2014 guidance, although there now seems to be scope for it to do better. Our suggestion after 2Q results, that Pegasus may have turned a corner and be ready to leave the path of deteriorating margins, seems to be gaining credibility.
Ryanair has again achieved double digit growth in net profits in 2QFY2015. This was the result of revenue per seat growth outpacing cost per seat growth. After Ryanair's dip in profits in FY2014, it has now reported two quarters of earnings growth and reconfirmed its position as Europe's most profitable airline. It has again raised its FY2015 net profit guidance and expects a result that is around 45% higher than last year.
With a slight fall in average sector length in 2Q, the increased revenue per seat was the result of network and product/service improvements and greater overlap with higher fare competitors. It seems that Ryanair has made good progress with its 'Always Getting Better' programme and this is feeding through to the numbers.
Remarkably for Ryanair, it is even starting to make positive progress in brand rating surveys. As CEO Michael O'Leary said to analysts at the 2Q results presentation, "It's not cheap and nasty any more," he said, "it's cheap and very good."
IAG confirms its leadership among Europe's Big Three after growing 3Q profit and raising 2014 target
International Airlines Group (IAG) has improved its profitability once more in 3Q2014 and raised its target for FY2014. This sets IAG well apart from Air France-KLM and Lufthansa and confirms its leadership position among Europe's Big Three legacy airline groups. For the group as a whole, unit cost reduction more than compensated for weaker unit revenues.
Nevertheless, the development of its principal airlines was not uniform. IAG's LCC subsidiary Vueling Airlines is still the only profitable LCC subsidiary of any Big Three parent, but its margin fell as its rapid expansion into new markets led to costs being added faster than revenues. British Airways recorded a solid improvement in its margin, built on the performance of its long-haul network (North America in particular). Iberia's turnaround was confirmed by a more than doubling of its 3Q operating profit as its lease-adjusted margin equalled that of BA.
IAG must continue to improve its financial performance, so that it can meet its cost of capital, a target that it has set for 2015. Achieving this will require some assistance from the market, but this is a valuable prize that is now within its grasp.
Norwegian Air Shuttle reported its third fall in quarterly profits this year, with the seasonally strong 3Q2014 seeing a 14% drop in its net result. It has been an unusual year. Additional costs associated with the introduction of its 787 fleet on its nascent long-haul network, delays to its US foreign carrier permit application and currency movements have weighed on this year's profits.
But Norwegian cannot blame these factors entirely. It has also experienced heavy falls in unit revenue in 2014, not entirely unrelated to its very rapid capacity expansion. Unit cost has declined too, but not fast enough. Pioneering a new business model on long-haul and growing very rapidly certainly provide challenges.
Norwegian's 2013 profits were lower than in 2012 and it now looks certain to make a significant loss in 2014. In 2015, it is planning much slower growth, which should be beneficial to unit revenue. It must also silence its detractors by proving that it can generate a more favourable profit trend next year, while also managing its new aircraft leasing subsidiary.
Transavia part 2: still constrained by unions and forced into high degree of overlap with Air France
Air France's recent draft agreement with pilot unions over the future growth of its Transavia France LCC operation puts the Air France-KLM Group in a better place than it was before the deal was struck. This is particularly so in view of the damaging strike that preceded the accord.
However, the deal comes with some major compromises. Instead of adding new Transavia routes across Europe via the now abandoned Transavia Europe, Air France will put all its LCC growth into Transavia France. In our first in this series of two reports analysing Transavia, we concluded that the abandonment of its plans to establish a pan-European LCC vehicle was a high strategic price to pay.
In this second report, we highlight the extent to which Transavia France will still face significant constraints as a result of management concessions to unions. We also question the merit of the high degree of overlap between Transavia France's network and that of Air France.