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Part 1 of CAPA's analysis of the S7 Airlines Group examined its network and competitive positioning, particularly with respect to the Russian market leader Aeroflot Group. Away from its Moscow Domodedovo hub, S7 has pockets of strength serving cities in Asia from regional Russian airports.
This second part of the report on S7 highlights its respectable track record of growth in its operations and profitability since the establishment of its subsidiary Globus in 2008. In 8M2016 its passenger growth rate accelerated to 25%, after a 6% increase in 2015. Although demand for international air travel to/from Russia has slumped due to geopolitical developments, S7 has benefited from growth in the domestic market and from capacity cuts by foreign competitors on international routes. It has also benefited from the 2015 collapse of Transaero (although Aeroflot has gained more from this).
S7 Airlines, together with its subsidiary Globus, achieved a 25% increase in passenger numbers in the first eight months of 2016. Passengers flying the S7 brand totalled 10.6 million in 2015, making it Russia's second biggest airline after Aeroflot (thanks also to the collapse last year of former number two Transaero). This first part of CAPA's report examines S7's current network. A second part will analyse its growth, fleet and financial track record.
Moscow Domodedovo is S7's biggest airport and its main hub for the domestic market, which accounts for around two thirds of its seat capacity. Domodedovo is also its hub for international routes to Europe (mainly Eastern and Central Europe). Although it is the biggest airline at this airport, on a city pair basis on many routes from Moscow there is significant competition from the market leader Aeroflot, whose main hub is Sheremetyevo.
However, S7 also has a noteworthy network to cities in Northeast and Southeast Asia from regional airports elsewhere in Russia, in particular Novosibirsk and Vladivostok. Competition on these Asian routes is much less severe: indeed, S7 is the only operator on the majority of its routes to NE/SE Asia and its position is further boosted by codeshares (including with Aeroflot).
Air France-KLM chairman and CEO, Jean-Marc Janaillac, who took charge in Jul-2016, has talked about the possibility of launching long haul low cost operations (Bloomberg/luchtvaartnieuws.nl, 20-Sep-2016).
If Air France-KLM were to enter this segment it would be the second of Europe's big three legacy airline groups to do so, after the Lufthansa Group. Ironically, there is no long haul low cost competition to Lufthansa in Germany. By contrast, IAG faces more such competitors in the UK than either of its two major rival groups in their largest home market, but currently has no plan for such an operator.
Air France-KLM management told analysts on a conference call in May-2016 that it was sceptical about the sustainability of year-round profits for long haul low cost. However, new competition has prompted Mr Janaillac to look more closely at this market segment. Since Jul-2016 Norwegian has commenced trans-Atlantic long haul operations from Paris CDG. In addition, since Sep-2016, the new-start long haul LCC French Blue now flies on routes to the Caribbean. Mr Janaillac is expected to report on his strategic vision for Air France-KLM in early Nov-2016. Labour relations will be crucial to the group's development – not least in the area of long haul low cost.
CityJet: regional airline consolidator is re-energised & refocussed after second change of ownership
It is just over six months since CityJet chairman, Pat Byrne, and a group of private investors bought the airline from previous owner Intro Aviation. Meanwhile, CityJet has received its first two Sukhoi Superjets this summer. With 13 more scheduled for delivery by 2018 they will be replacements for its ageing BAE146 fleet at London City Airport, but the Superjet first needs steep approach certification. This will be important in restoring profitability to CityJet's refocused core network at London City.
In addition, CityJet has a growing presence in contract flying for other airlines. It inherited an Air France wet-lease operation at Paris CDG from its days under Air France-KLM ownership and acquired an SAS regional operator a year ago. Recent reports of possible consolidation involving CityJet in the European regional contract flying space demonstrate that it now has a higher profile and greater credibility than at any time for many years.
Although unconfirmed, these reports link CityJet with another SAS regional operator, Cimber, and with Stobart Air, which operates wet-lease capacity for Aer Lingus and Flybe. Even if they do not come to fruition, reports of such transactions are a sign of CityJet's increased status and revitalisation after years of near invisibility as part of Air France-KLM.
When CAPA – Centre for Aviation held its first conference in Iran at the end of Jan-2016 the atmosphere was primarily one of optimism. Immediately preceding the conference the expectation was that Iran and the West would move to rapidly reverse decades of estrangement. The first round of sanctions against Iran had come down – in line with the historic 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear agreement reached between Iran and the ‘5+1’ powers – and major airlines and aircraft manufacturers were coming to the table.
While it was acknowledged that progress on major deals was not going to happen overnight, the hope was that as layers of sanctions came down, Iran would be embraced by the rest of the world. In return, Iran was expected to open itself up progressively to foreign trade and investment, and to travel.
The road ahead was perceived to be one that was both a very different, and far easier, one than the one Iran had already travelled. Aviation in particular was a sector that was expected to shine and lead the way for a new era for the country.
The latest investment in the Monarch Group by its majority shareholder Greybull Capital avoided the loss of its ATOL licences and the possible suspension of operations. Moreover, it has given Monarch the opportunity to bridge the gap between now and the planned delivery of the first of its new 30 Boeing 737MAX aircraft in 2018.
Nevertheless, Monarch continues to face significant challenges. Europe's short/medium-haul markets are feeling significant downward pressure on unit revenue – particularly in the leisure markets that Monarch serves. This is due to overcapacity and concerns about terrorism in key Monarch markets. Brexit and the sharp devaluation of GBP (it has fallen by 30% against the EUR over the past 12 months) are further challenges for the LCC.
Although Monarch quickly quashed rumours of its financial difficulties in late Sep-2016 and then secured new funds, its commentary indicated that its profit for the year to Oct-2016 would be lower than in the previous year. It has an uneven track record of profitability and has often flown with close to empty cash reserves. Those reserves have been partially replenished, but only sustainable improvements in profitability will avoid the need for further cash calls in the future.