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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Vueling's new CEO, Javier Sanchez-Prieto, is leading a programme ('Vueling NEXT') to improve its profitability, both through revenue enhancement and cost efficiency gains. Among other aims this hopes to reduce Vueling's high levels of seasonality, to raise aircraft utilisation and to improve labour productivity. Given ambitious financial targets by IAG – action is needed.
Part 1 of CAPA's analysis of Vueling examined its capacity growth and profitability trends since its acquisition by IAG in 2013. Vueling's operating margin and return on invested capital are on a downward trend, hence the new initiative to reverse these trends.
This second part of CAPA's analysis considers the profit improvement programme. During this programme Vueling's fleet will remain broadly flat to 2018, before resuming growth thereafter. Focus markets for Vueling are domestic Spain and Spain-Europe. It has strengths in these markets but faces growing competition from its lower-cost rival Ryanair, which has also been raising its service quality – closing the gap to Vueling's more premium positioning on the LCC spectrum.
Since the end of 2015 Vueling has slipped from being IAG's best performer on the key financial metric of return on invested capital to its worst performer for the four quarters ended 3Q2016. The group's LCC has suffered more than its sister airlines from disruption in Europe, caused by ATC strikes and terrorist activity.
However, since its acquisition by IAG in 2013 Vueling's revenue growth has not matched its capacity growth and unit costs have grown. The benefits of lower fuel prices have been dissipated by higher ex-fuel unit costs, including lower labour productivity. Vueling's new CEO, Javier Sanchez-Prieto, is now leading a programme ('Vueling NEXT') to improve its profitability.
Part 1 of this CAPA analysis of Vueling examines its capacity growth and profitability trends since becoming part of IAG. It also looks at the development of its RASK and CASK. Part two will highlight the seasonality in Vueling's schedule and look at the profit improvement programme.
CAPA's previous analysis of the 3Q2016 results of Europe's big three legacy airline groups highlighted a fall in their collective operating margin, after growth in 1H2016. This report shows that Europe's five leading LCCs, in aggregate, also suffered a fall in profit and margin in the quarter.
Three of the five – Ryanair, Norwegian and Wizz Air – improved their profit margin in the quarter, but easyJet's drop in margin was heavy enough to bring down the collective result. Pegasus' margin also declined.
Nevertheless, the LCC five remain collectively far more profitable than the legacy three. Moreover Europe's two most profitable airlines, Ryanair and Wizz Air, look set to increase their margin lead this year. Even easyJet, which has had a bad year by its standards, achieved a higher margin for calendar 9M2016 than the most profitable of the big three legacy groups, which was IAG.
The divergence of results in the European sector suggest that not all airlines are following the same cycle. However the collective margin decline for the continent's leading LCCs, and its major legacy airline groups, at least gives reason to question whether or not the cyclical upswing may have run its course.
In spite of challenging market conditions and falling profits, easyJet remains on the offensive in its fight for market share with legacy airlines. It is also making contingency plans to apply for an EU AOC to ensure continued intra-European traffic rights in the post-Brexit future.
easyJet's revenue per seat, pre-tax profit and return on capital employed all fell in FY2016 (year to Sep-2016), the first reversal since before CEO Dame Carolyn McCall took the helm in FY2010. In spite of lower fuel prices, easyJet could not lower its cost per seat fast enough to offset the drop in unit revenue. Load factor was just above flat at 91.6%, so the drop in revenue per seat was all price-related. A series of external events put pressure on pricing – including terrorism, ATC strikes and the UK's Brexit vote.
Some airlines might tighten their capacity growth in the face of weak pricing, but easyJet plans to accelerate its seat growth from 6% in FY2016 to 9% in FY2017. It has its sights on an opportunity to take share from legacy airlines in airports where it already has a strong market position.
Cautious optimism exhibited by Copa Airlines at the end of 2Q2016 that challenging conditions in Latin America were showing some signs of improvement has turned into a full-blown declaration that the worst is over in the region. Although yields remain depressed, Copa turned a corner in its passenger unit revenue performance in 3Q2016, posting positive results driven by healthy load factors. Copa continues to experience strengthening demand, and believes it is only a matter of time before yields turn a corner.
The changing conditions have resulted in Copa issuing a slight upward revision to its margin guidance for 2016, and the airline has outlined a framework for restoring its operating margins to the high teens during the next couple of years. Copa’s preliminary growth project for 2017 is an ASM increase of approximately 5% driven largely by aircraft ultilisation.
As optimism builds that Latin America is starting to turn an economic corner, Copa is undertaking a strategic business move by shifting its business model in Colombia to a low cost operation. The new entity Wingo is debuting in Dec-2016; Copa holds the view that the shift in business model is low-risk, and highlights the fact that Wingo does not carry the same challenges as low cost subsidiaries created by other airlines.
Air Canada’s yield and passenger unit revenues during 3Q2016 remained broadly in line with those of the previous quarter, which is a different outcome from the results posted by many of its North American peers. However its top line revenues grew nearly 11%, and its costs fell at a lower rate than those of many other North American airlines.
The airline’s yields and passenger unit revenues began falling earlier than those of most other airlines based in North America, and Air Canada’s recurring explanation is that lower yields and unit revenues are an expected byproduct of changes in its business model – the creation of its low cost unit rouge, a higher mix of lower-yielding leisure travellers, and longer average stage lengths. As yields and unit revenues continue to decline, Air Canada continues to deliver on its own established financial goals for EBITDAR, ROIC and leverage ratios.
Air Canada’s focus has been on international expansion during the past few years, and that trend will continue for the foreseeable future. In 2017 the airline is expecting nine Boeing 787s scheduled for delivery and its capacity is likely to mirror 2016’s double-digit growth – given that the company will accept delivery of nine new widebodies this year. The bulk of its growth will again be directed to international routes as several new long haul markets are scheduled to come online in 2017.