Low Cost Carriers (LCCs)
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Kuwait-based LCC Jazeera Airways reported a 34.7% decrease in net profit in 1H2014, with the tough operating environment in many of the airline's major markets, the rising price of aviation fuel and other externalities contributing to the reduction.
The carrier’s focus has been to successfully navigate the regional turbulence and deliver a strong second half of the year, particularly the busy and highly profitable summer travel period. Despite the regional unrest, Jazeera Airways has maintained its 2014 outlook, maintaining the strong run of profitability and improving value for shareholders.
Meanwhile the company's aircraft leasing company, Sahaab Aircraft Leasing, contributed positively to overall group revenue.
Ryanair increased its profits substantially in 1QFY2015, as revenue per seat grew faster than cost per seat. By comparison with the same quarter a year earlier, revenues and profits were assisted by the inclusion of Easter in 1Q this year, but the underlying trends still looked favourable.
In spite of its caution over the outlook for average fares in 2H, Ryanair has raised its profit guidance for FY2015, based on higher traffic and load factors and lower cost per passenger than previously expected.
This is in contrast with its profit warning last autumn (and with more recent profit warnings from a number of European legacy carriers) and gives some comfort that its strategic shift to increase the emphasis on customer service may be starting to work.
easyJet's reported revenue growth of 8.6% for 3QFY2014 (i.e. Apr-2014 to Jun-2014), is an acceleration on 1H's 6.3%, with further growth in revenue per seat. However, load factors are already at industry-leading levels throughout the year and easyJet will probably need to focus more on revenue per passenger if it is to continue to see continued growth in revenue per seat. In 3Q, it experienced a rare (and slight) dip in revenue per passenger. To some extent, the change in the timing of Easter distorts year on year comparison for 3Q, but the airline's new FY2014 guidance implies a modest fall in revenue per seat in 4Q.
Strong capacity growth by easyJet at Gatwick, due to the acquisition of slots from Flybe, and a competitive environment of increasing capacity growth are making themselves felt in this modest yield weakness.
Nevertheless, easyJet's unit costs were lower than previously expected and it has a significant cost advantage versus legacy carriers at the primary airports on which its network focuses. Moreover, its FY2014 guidance implies another year of double digit profit growth and return on capital above the cost of capital.
Etihad's planned investment in Alitalia has attracted most of the aviation headlines in Italy recently. But what of Italy's number two indigenous airline, Sardinia-based Meridiana?
Together with its subsidiary Air Italy, Meridiana has a market share of 4% ranked by the number of scheduled seats to/from Italy in the week of 21-Jul-2014. The 2013 annual report of its parent group reveals that it narrowed its losses last year, by lowering cost per passenger more quickly than the fall in revenue per passenger.
Nevertheless, with strong LCC competition continuing to grow, revenue per passenger is likely to remain under pressure and Meridiana will need to find further cost efficiencies if it is to return to profitability. Recent industrial action over plans to outsource part of its operations to other airlines and over its redundancy programme highlight the scale of the challenge in achieving this.
Norwegian Air Shuttle slumped to an operating loss in 2Q2013, after having previously established 2Q as a profitable quarter. This followed a record loss in 1Q2014. It will need to do a lot of making up to achieve a profit for the full year. Norwegian said it suffered from one-off costs related to the delay in Dreamliner deliveries and its first ever strike, in addition to negative currency movements. Nevertheless, while its CASK target for 2014 has slipped a little, it has a strong cost focus and remains broadly on course to achieve its medium term unit cost goal.
As in 1Q, the real problem was that unit revenue, RASK, fell more rapidly than CASK. This was the result of strong capacity growth in Norwegian's intra-Europe markets, its new bases in London, Barcelona and Madrid and its new long-haul routes. It has modestly trimmed its 2014 capacity growth plans, but it still has a very large number of aircraft on order until 2022.
It has established an Irish leasing vehicle through which it plans to lease out any excess aircraft, perhaps mindful of the fact that aircraft lessors are typically more profitable than aircraft operators. Meanwhile, 2014 looks set to deliver a poor result.
Presenting a strategy update to analysts in London after 70 days in the job, Lufthansa Group CEO Carsten Spohr said that he could not wait the 100 days usually afforded to a new CEO before their first progress report. This sense of urgency should serve him well in the rapidly changing airline industry. After all, he has worked for Lufthansa his entire career and had been running its largest business unit, the passenger airline, since 2011. He does not need time to settle into the job.
In addition to lots of analysis of the airline industry backdrop and the changes affecting it, Mr Spohr's presentation included one significant new plan. Lufthansa is to launch a new low(er) cost long-haul airline, possibly as a joint venture with Turkish Airlines.
The low-cost long-haul concept is well established in Asia and is being pioneered in Europe by Norwegian Air Shuttle. It would be Lufthansa's most radical attempt so far to combat competition from hubs in the Middle East. But bolder steps are probably needed to catch up to the fast moving game, even if its unions feel more comfortable with the status quo.