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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Lufthansa's supervisory board has approved the exercise of its call option to buy the remaining 55% of SN Airholding, the parent company of Brussels Airlines. Lufthansa acquired 45% of the company in 2009 and negotiated the option to buy the balance of the shares for no more than EUR250 million. The deal is expected to close in early 2017, once the details of the purchase have been agreed with the other SN Airholding shareholders.
Lufthansa and Brussels Airlines have an extensive codeshare agreement and are partners in the Star Alliance. Their existing relationship is such that Brussels Airlines already feels like a member of the Lufthansa Group. The main draw for Lufthansa has always been its Belgian partner's extensive African network (it is the number two airline on Western Europe-Central/Western Africa).
However, it now seems that Lufthansa will, at least partly, integrate Brussels Airlines into its Eurowings low cost brand. Lufthansa is keen to accelerate Eurowings' expansion through partners (and is also to wet-lease up to 35 aircraft from airberlin). Brussels Airlines' fleet and single-class configuration on short/medium haul should fit with Eurowings, but its unit cost and network airline business model are not characteristic of an LCC.
Jet2.com has provided details of the routes that it plans to operate at the new London Stansted base that had been already announced by the LCC's parent Dart Group. From the start of the summer 2017 schedule Jet2.com will serve 21 European leisure destinations from Stansted. This will continue the airline's strong dependence on the summer season.
Jet2.com's move into Stansted will it bring it into head-to-head competition with Europe's biggest and lowest cost LCC – Ryanair. That much was clear from the moment that the Dart Group announced the establishment of the base at Stansted, and it was highlighted in a previous CAPA analysis.
The route details allow greater analysis of the competitive landscape that Jet2.com will face. By entering the London market it will not only be locking horns with Ryanair, but it will also be facing city pair competition from almost every other significant LCC and charter airline that operates from the UK. The new seat capacity that Jet2.com will deploy from its first base in the south of England will be more than its network-wide seat growth in summer 2016, making this a highly significant move for the airline.
The last of Europe's leading listed airline groups reported 1H2016 results on 19-Sep-2016. This now allows analysis of the aggregate trends for the 15 largest European airline groups listed on the stock market that publicly report financial results for the first six months of the calendar year. These groups account for 53% of ASKs flown to/from/within Europe by all airlines and 71% of ASKs flown by European airlines (week of 19-Sep-2016, source: OAG).
Collectively, these 15 groups enjoyed an improvement in operating margin in 1H2016 versus 1H2015. This was achieved in spite of heavy downward pressure on unit revenue – thanks largely to lower fuel prices, which allowed them to cut unit costs more rapidly. However, there was a wider range of levels of profitability in the individual results compared with last year.
Moreover, in margin terms, there was a trend towards the strong getting stronger and the weak getting weaker. Further, there has been a number of profit warnings in the sector – particularly since the UK's Brexit referendum. This may mean that further improvements in the aggregate results of Europe's listed airline sector will be harder to achieve in 2017.
Part 1 of CAPA's analysis of Spanish LCC Volotea highlighted its rapid growth, but noted that its load factor left room for improvement. The Spanish LCC flies almost two thirds of its seats in domestic Italy and France, but operates in a total of 12 countries and 66 airports across Europe. It concentrates on small and medium-sized airports, with Italy and France dominating its list of leading routes.
This second part of CAPA's report on Volotea looks at its generally favourable competitive position on its leading routes (it is the biggest airline on 15 of its top 20 routes). This positive competitive standing has been carried onto the majority of the 32 routes that Volotea has launched in the past year, although its low frequencies and very strong summer bias limit its appeal to business passengers and give it a leisure focus.
Volotea's average trip length sits between those of regional airlines and Europe's principal LCCs. This is evidenced by the fact that two of its most frequent competitors are Hop (Air France's regional airline) and Ryanair (Europe's leading LCC). Volotea's fleet strategy is now to replace its 125-seat Boeing 717s with 150-seat A319s. This will result in it butting up against LCCs more often.
Volotea is an unusual creature. It's a Spanish airline, but has almost two thirds of its seat capacity in domestic Italy and domestic France. It's an LCC, but mainly operates 125-seat Boeing 717 aircraft – much smaller than the 737-800 and A320 aircraft more typically flown by European LCCs. Nevertheless, more than four years after its 2012 launch, it is one of the fastest-growing airlines in Europe, with passenger growth of 39% in 2015 and a similar rate expected in 2016.
This first part of a two-part series on Volotea looks at the airline's growth record and load factor development. It analyses the geographic distribution of Volotea's capacity across Europe and examines its network of small and medium-sized airports. It also presents the airline's leading routes, which are dominated by Italy and France.
Part 2 of CAPA's analysis of Volotea will consider the airline's competitive position and its recent route launches. It will also analyse its low-frequency schedule and high seasonality levels, in addition to its fleet strategy.
The announcement by Eurowings that it plans to establish a base with two aircraft at Palma de Mallorca Airport next spring focuses attention on Spain's number three airport by passenger numbers. One of Europe's most important airports for LCC capacity, Palma is also very dependent on the summer schedule. The low point of the winter schedule has 78% fewer seats than the peak summer week.
Traffic at the airport held up relatively well during the second phase of Spain's 'double-dip' recession in 2011 to 2013, but its passenger growth has lagged that of the country as a whole since then. The mix of airlines has been in some flux, with Palma's leading airline airberlin gradually losing share to LCCs and the seat-only sales of charter airlines. Ryanair, number two at the airport, has returned to capacity growth there in 2016 after two years of cuts.
Eurowings' new base at Palma in May-2017 will follow the establishment of bases at the airport by easyJet and Norwegian in 2016. It is certainly a market that seems to attract the interest of Europe's leisure-focused airlines, but strong capacity growth at Palma (and elsewhere in Spain) increases the downward pressure on yields in a price-sensitive market.