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The Global Airport Development (GAD World) conference was held in Lisbon, between 29-Nov and 01-Dec-2016. This CAPA report chronicles the presentations and debates that took place on the first two days, including selected ‘stream’ sessions on both days.
There was, inevitably, a political overlay to the event, with the (Jun-2016) UK referendum on continuing membership of the European Union (‘Brexit’), the (Nov-2016) election of President Trump in the US and associated ‘uncertainty’ dominating events.
Otherwise, the concern was, as always, the ‘pipeline’ of airport privatisation details, or rather the lack of them, while the hope was for the continuation of the trend towards PPP deals.
Pilot strikes at Lufthansa. Again. A strike ballot among British Airways cabin crew. A guilty verdict for Air France workers who assaulted an executive during a union protest. These were all headlines in late Nov-2016, following Air France pilot and cabin crew strikes in summer 2016. Labour relations at Europe's three biggest legacy airline groups are an ongoing challenge.
A CAPA report in Jun-2016 highlighted the growing number of articles on CAPA's website mentioning the word 'strike'. It raised the possibility that if the rate continued through the year, 2016 could be the biggest year for strike-related articles since before the global financial crisis. With a little under a month still to go, this year has already comfortably passed this milestone.
To a large extent labour unrest grows as airline industry profits increase. However, rather than hoping for an industry downturn to reverse the rise in the cycle of strikes, airline CEOs are talking tough – a line long taken by IAG's Willie Walsh. Lufthansa's Carsten Spohr has said that taking on the pilots is "about the future of Lufthansa", noting that it has “no chance of survival" if it gives in to pay demands (Bloomberg, 24-Nov-2016).
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.
Kenny Jacobs, Ryanair's Chief Marketing Officer, has said that its website aims to become the "Amazon of air travel". The airline that was built around selling seats on flights as cheaply as possible – and not much else – now wants to sell a much wider range of products and services. In Oct-2016 it launched its new accommodation service, Ryanair Rooms, and it plans Ryanair Holidays by next summer.
Now well into its third year, Ryanair's 'Always Getting Better' programme (abbreviated to 'AGB') has been a demonstrable success. Accompanied by a move to increase Ryanair's presence in primary airports, AGB has aimed to improve customer service and reinvigorate its digital interfaces. Since AGB was initiated in 2014 Ryanair's passenger numbers have returned to double-digit rates of growth, and load factor has gained more than 10ppts.
Turkey's fifth largest airline by seat capacity, LCC Onur Air, has thrown its operation into reverse. After growing scheduled seat numbers at an average rate of 11% pa for four years, including growth at around 20% for most of 2016, it will cut capacity by 20% this winter.
A series of geopolitical events has weighed heavily on demand for air travel in Turkey, particularly in international travel. Weak trading conditions have also prompted the market leaders – national airline Turkish Airlines and LCC Pegasus – to halt their own rapid growth. Onur Air is bigger in the domestic market than it is in the international market, but much of its 2016 expansion was driven by international growth, particularly to Germany.
Onur's network faces strong competition on almost every route, particularly on international routes, and this has clearly posed a severe challenge in the face of falling demand.