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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Last month, Lufthansa confirmed plans to extend its low-cost operations under what it terms its 'Wings concept'. Short haul LCC subsidiary Germanwings will continue to expand, with a renewed emphasis on using group company Eurowings to provide it with capacity. Eurowings' pilots are under a separate (more flexible) contract from those of Lufthansa and Germanwings and its 23 Bombardier CRJ900s are to be replaced with an equivalent number of A320ceo aircraft.
Perhaps referring to this, and to Lufthansa's low cost long haul plans, Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary* said that Lufthansa "has some bizarre plan about establishing a new low-fare airline.” He added: “Unfortunately they started with a high-fare airline called Germanwings and they’ll need to do a lot more than call it that and paint it yellow to make it a low-cost carrier.”
Lufthansa began transferring all its European point to point routes that do not serve its Frankfurt and Munich hubs to Germanwings in Jul-2013. Just over 15 months on, we review its capacity growth and the impact on the market share of Lufthansa/Germanwings in this segment.
In the first part of our analysis of Croatia Airlines, we examined its finances and highlighted an improving trend. The Croatian government's attempts to find a buyer for a 49% stake in the airline met with insufficient interest in 2013, but it is easier to sell a business where there are clear signs of profit returning than it is to sell a perennial loss-maker.
The potential privatisation has come back onto the agenda.
However, airlines rarely make a good investment on purely financial grounds and Croatia Airlines' prospects are likely to depend on finding a bidder with a strategic interest.
This second report looks into Croatia Airlines' network and market position and considers their possible appeal.
Croatia Airlines celebrated its 25th anniversary this summer, after reporting a return to profit in 2013 and a narrowing of losses in the seasonally weak first half of 2014. It also underwent a recapitalisation in 2013 and the Croatian government now appears to be ready to restart the on-off privatisation of the airline.
Potential acquirers will be encouraged by the improving profit trend, driven mainly by cuts in unit costs (CASK). However, Croatia Airlines still has one of the highest levels of CASK in Europe.
Moreover, the balance sheet may be out of intensive care after the recapitalisation, but it is in need of further strengthening, given that the airline has four Airbus A319s due for delivery in 2015 and is considering a further order of aircraft to fill the gap between its Airbus fleet and its Bombardier Q-400s.
In this first of two reports, we analyse Croatia Airlines' finances and its track record of unit revenue versus unit cost. This analysis will be followed by a second report looking at its network and market position.
It is not often that a lick of paint is so momentous. When China Eastern Airlines – China’s second largest carrier and the world’s eighth largest by seats – unveiled its new livery, it marked an important step. The details of the branding are the minor part; the major fact is that in China’s slow-moving legacy environment of national carriers where the state has a heavy hand, China Eastern was able to implement change. Competitors, still wearing their old coats, are jealous. This is China Eastern's first re-branding since its establishment over 20 years ago, and the first major one among China's airlines.
The branding itself is the visible signal of strategic change. A more material one is due to arrive with the 24-Sep-2014 delivery of the first of China Eastern’s 20 777s for long-haul growth, mainly to North America. China Eastern’s lagging performance has made its Shanghai hub vulnerable, albeit one of China's most important. Further, China Eastern is the first – and so far only – state carrier to launch an LCC. Even more disruptive, in its low key way, is China Eastern’s discussion of finding a strategic investor.
The strategy may be relatively fresh but it needs time (perhaps years) to incubate. China Eastern has some way to go before becoming fully commercial; for example, its 1H2014 financial results included domestic load factor gains at the expense of yield - while operating profit was boosted by state subsidies.
easyJet: more aircraft come in as more cash to shareholders goes out. Stelios' baby is in good hands
After exercising its last 27 purchase rights over current generation A320s, easyJet's fleet now looks set to grow from 226 aircraft currently to 304 in FY2019. Although it will remain Europe's number two LCC fleet after Ryanair, it will be able to match the latter's growth rate before its A320 neo deliveries come on stream.
This increased fleet plan reflects easyJet management's confidence in its ability to continue to generate a value-creating return on capital, which was sector-leading in FY2013 and looks set to rise once more in FY2014. Total shareholder returns, which include both capital gains and dividends, have also led the industry. easyJet now proposes to increase its ordinary dividend payout ratio from one third to 40% of net profit.
The company's biggest shareholder, Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, a vocal supporter of higher dividends, has been critical of its fleet expansion. At easyJet's recent Investor Day, the airline's management team gave some strong reasons for all shareholders to trust its track record.
Wizz Air CEO Josef Varadi told a recent meeting of the Aviation Club in London that he ran a very disciplined airline. "We never grow for growth's sake", he said, explaining that the airline had clear financial targets and that growth was an output from this process.
Earlier this year, Wizz Air pulled out of a planned initial public offering (IPO) of its shares, which would have seen it floated on the London Stock Exchange. Investor appetite was dulled by geopolitical issues, a fuel price spike and profit warnings from other airlines, rather than any problems at the airline itself. Indeed, its most recent accounts show that it is now one of Europe's most profitable airlines, with significant cash reserves. An IPO could come back onto the agenda, but, Mr Varadi said, "we are not desperate".
Its results have not always been strong in the 10 years since its 2004 launch, but our analysis of its accounts suggests that it is now on a firm footing, supporting Mr Varadi's claim that "financial performance is at the core of the airline – we are not doing it for charity".