Traffic and Capacity
Airlines seek to match capacity (supply) with traffic (demand), to produce consistently high load factors, to help them maintain their pricing and yields (see CAPA's Aviation Glossary for more background in traffic terminology). It is a difficult balancing act, made more challenging by volatile global economic conditions. Traffic is generally growing much faster in the emerging markets of the Asia Pacific, Middle East, Africa and Latin America and Eastern Europe regions, compared to the more mature aviation markets of Western Europe and North America.
CAPA covers hundreds of traffic reports from airports, airlines and industry bodies every month. Our Diamond Members can opt to receive them as they happen via CAPA Alerts.
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A decade ago it would have been unheard of for Air Canada to contemplate reaching an investment grade credit rating. The airline had emerged from bankruptcy protection, but was still struggling financially. It would teeter on the verge of another formal restructuring before setting out on a course to restructure its financial foundation – a process that has allowed the airline to improve its balance sheet and leverage.
Air Canada’s leverage targets for YE2018 will not meet the general proxy for an investment grade rating; however, its lower capital commitments and debt refinancing could create an opportunity for achieving that status beyond 2018.
Attaining an investment grade credit rating likely remains a longer term goal for Air Canada as its major financial goals in the short term remain paying down debt that is creeping up due to a fleet renewal, as well as funding growth to drive long-term shareholder value. More meaningful shareholder returns will likely occur once the company reaches what it deems as acceptable progress in debt management, and reaches a certain maturity level in growing its international network.
This is Part 2 in a two part series on Air Canada. Part 1 dealt with long haul LCC subsidiary, rouge.
Frontier Airlines began 2016 making meaningful strides in its on-time performance, besting its closest US ULCC rival Spirit Airlines. But its performance in the busy summer months of Jun-2016 and Jul-2016 slipped, due largely to challenges in ground handling. Now Frontier faces the task of restoring its OTP to consistently higher levels.
Frontier’s network composition is slightly different from those of the two other US ULCCs, Allegiant and Spirit. Its average weekly frequencies fall between those offered by its ULCC counterparts and, in some ways, Frontier’s network changes seem more rapid than those of other ultra-low cost airlines as it works to tailor the ULCC model to its specific strategy.
As a privately held company, Frontier does not discuss its growth prospects as freely as Allegiant and Spirit. But the airline has an ample pipeline of Airbus deliveries that will drive its growth over the medium to long term. During the past year the prospect of an IPO to fund Frontier’s growth has surfaced and quietened down; but at some point in the not-too-distant future the company’s investors will seek rewards for their endeavours.
Latin America has been a weak spot for airlines for more than a year; Brazil’s economy has crumbled and currency fluctuations have driven weakness in demand in some of the region’s other countries. But two of the US’ large global airlines, American and Delta, believe that Brazil in particular has reached an inflection point, and they sense a slow improvement occurring on routes to Brazil due to a rationalisation of capacity in those markets.
After steep revenue declines in its Brazilian markets, American expects it could post positive unit revenue results in those markets during 3Q2016, while Delta is citing positive trends for its Latin American entity that should continue into 2017.
Of course, it will take some time for airlines to reach the levels of revenue performance they enjoyed before Latin America’s economy began to contract, but the start of the slow climb out of the revenue doldrums is a welcome sign for a region that remains one of the most promising over the long term.
On 8-Sep-2016 LOT Polish Airlines announced its "2020 profitable growth strategy". This involves a goal to achieve "sustainable viability", after a restructuring programme which returned LOT to operating profit in 2014 after six loss-making years. Its privatisation may even be back on the agenda.
LOT currently ranks behind LCCs Ryanair and Wizz Air by share of traffic in Poland, which offers superior traffic growth potential versus Europe as a whole. The airline aims to increase passenger numbers from 4.3 million in 2015 to 10 million in 2020, growing its fleet from 43 to 70 aircraft. LOT's expansion will focus on long haul, particularly North America and Asia, where it currently has only five routes and where competition is considerably lower than on short/medium haul. Initial plans include the launch of Warsaw-Seoul this winter and a return to Warsaw-New York Newark next summer.
According to data from LOT, its restructuring has left it with a fairly efficient cost base by legacy airline standards and this will be important in competing with LCCs (but there is still a cost gap with LCCs). LOT's growth will focus on long haul but will need short-haul European feed – and partnerships. Although LOT no longer appears to be considering leaving the Star Alliance, it remains excluded from American and Asian JVs. Further, those JVs preclude members from working with LOT. Partnership growth will be as critical as it will be challenging.
All-premium UK-US airlines. BA cuts LCY frequency; La Compagnie quits LTN; Odyssey to launch in 2017
There have been two notable recent developments in the market for all-business class services on the North Atlantic: British Airways is to reduce its London City-JFK A318 frequencies and France's La Compagnie is to withdraw from Luton-Newark to concentrate its 74-seat Boeing 757 operations on Paris-Newark (its only other route).
BA's 32-seat London City operation has been suffering from significant load factor declines, particularly on the outbound flights. These flights make a refuelling stop in Shannon, where passengers can pre-clear US customs, but this may not be a sufficient incentive for some passengers to take an indirect flight. La Compagnie expressed concerns about uncertainties in the UK post-Brexit, but its route economics must anyway have been struggling, due to Luton's lack of suitability as a premium market and its lack of feed.
So far there has been no reaction to these developments from the new-start Odyssey Airlines, which plans to launch an all-business class London City-New York service in 2017. It will no doubt be attempting to find a balance between relief that its level of competition has reduced, and some anxiety that its launch may coincide with a softening of market demand.
Panama’s Copa Airlines is joining other Latin American airlines in expressing cautious optimism that some negative trends in the region are starting to stabilise, after a tough couple of years of challenging economic conditions. Copa, in particular, believes that weakened demand is beginning to improve, driven in part by some currencies within Latin America that are strengthening against the USD.
For 2H2016 Copa is continuing to post stronger close-in bookings that began to improve in 2Q2016, which is a positive sign for airlines operating in the region. Some of the upswing in bookings stems from capacity reductions by most Latin American airlines, to right-size supply with demand. That capacity discipline should continue in 2017, since all of the region’s major airline groups have worked to defer aircraft deliveries in order to maintain a proper supply-demand balance and lower capex commitments.
Similarly to other Latin American airline groups, Copa has worked to shore up its balance sheet to withstand overall economic weakness in many of its markets. Its cash balances at the end of 2Q2016 increased from the first quarter, and its leverage was the best among some of Latin America’s publicly traded airlines.