Long haul LCCs: big opportunities in Japan and Korea
Japan and Korea are important markets for the reasonably large long haul, low cost airlines based in Southeast Asia. Europe's long haul LCCs are eyeing Japan and Korea, subject to aeropolitical rights.
Cities in Japan and Korea have far larger local markets than do the homes of existing long haul LCCs. This could even negate the need for precious short haul feed. Airlines could transfer existing flights to a long haul LCC platform and/or use it to expand to new markets. This could occur in an airline's main city or a smaller city where it has a low nonstop long haul presence.
CAPA's 11/12-Jun-2018 "LCCs in Northeast Asia Summit" in Seoul will further explore this topic.
- Japan and Korea are home to only one local long haul LCC: Korean Air's Jin Air.
- Most long haul LCC services to Japan and Korea are from Southeast Asia. Europe could be linked if overflight rights become accessible.
- Further long haul LCC growth in Japan and Korea is inevitable.
- Japan and Korea have large cities – ideal for a long haul LCC to use as its local base.
Japanese and Korean cities are ideal long haul LCC bases, connecting with short haul
Japan and Korea have ideal bases for long haul LCCs. By now, long haul LCCs understand that they need short haul feed to enlarge their catchment area and offer more city pair combinations. A recent report on the low cost, long haul sector noted that most long haul LCCs originate from existing short haul LCCs or have a short haul LCC partner.
See related report: Longhaul low cost airlines: World Airways to be US' first
Populations are large in Seoul, Tokyo and Osaka. This gives a far greater local catchment area than available to other long haul LCC bases.
Further, the populations are affluent, unlike China’s vast collection of smaller cities that have tens of millions of people but where the propensity to travel is still low.
Population of selected long haul LCC bases: 2016-2018
High speed rail:
Both Japan and Korea have extensive high-speed rail networks. In Korea, the KTX high-speed train has virtually eliminated peninsular domestic flights (Korea’s domestic market consists almost entirely of flying to/from the island of Jeju).
Please see here for more details on CAPA's 11/12-Jun-2018 "LCCs in Northeast Asia Summit" in Seoul
On 4/5-Oct-2018 in Seville, Spain, CAPA's Low Cost Long Haul Global Summit will deal expressly with long haul operators and their local connectivity.
Even though Korea already has a larger footprint in Europe there is still considerable opportunity, but the constraint is a lack of Russian overflight rights. If it was not for the lack of overflight rights, Jin Air – the only long haul LCC in Korea – would probably already serve Europe.
Southeast Asian long haul LCCs are in Northeast Asia and the Europeans are next
In Japan and Korea foreign long haul LCCs have entered the markets and been seen to grow. This is especially the case for Japan, which has promoted open skies. Korea has open skies with many countries but some critical omissions, such as Singapore, home to the long haul LCC Scoot. Korea has open skies with Malaysia, home to the long haul LCC AirAsia X.
The presence of these long haul LCCs and talk from prospective entrants has made it clear that there is a market that will travel with lower amenities. Profitability is more subjective – and there are many doubters – but with market potential proven, it is up to airlines to see if they can make a profitable offering.
Cebu Pacific uses its widebody A330s on some regional Asian flights to overcome slot and traffic right restrictions. On the basis of distance these are not long haul flights, but the use of high-density widebodies introduces a new operating platform into markets.
Rouge is the only low cost, long haul airline in the Americas, although World Airways plans to be low cost, long haul as well. There have been plans for low cost, long haul airlines in the region, but these were never launched.
Rouge’s sole Asian service is to Osaka Kansai, which is often overlooked by full service airlines as the Osaka region lacks Tokyo’s high-yielding corporate and premium traffic. Although cargo out of the region is good, it is not enough to compensate for lower yields (and cargo can be transported to Tokyo).
Norwegian and Level have made clear that they want to grow in Asia, but for Northeast Asian services they are waiting for overflight rights from Russia. If the overflight rights were available, Norwegian would already have a larger presence in Asia, for sure.
Spain's Minister of Public Works and Transport Inigo de la Serna stated in Feb-2018 that Spain and Russia had reached an air transit agreement allowing for trans-Siberia overflight rights from an additional point other than Madrid.
This has led to speculation about LEVEL and Norwegian launching Barcelona-Tokyo. Norwegian CEO Bjørn Kjos has previously said that air traffic rights are an issue for planned new routes, including a Barcelona El Prat-Tokyo Narita service, and that Norwegian would launch the service "immediately" if the rights were sorted.
Long haul low cost airlines ranked by widebody fleet size: as of 14-Mar-2018
|Breakdown by type|
|1||Air Canada rouge||25||25 767-300ERs|
|2||AirAsia X||22||22 A330-300s|
|3||Scoot||16||10 787-8s, 6 787-9s|
|4||Norwegian Air UK||13||13 787-9s|
|6||Cebu Pacific||8||8 A330-300s|
|Norwegian Air International||8||3 787-8s, 5 787-9s|
|Beijing Capital||8||6 A330-200s, 2 A330-300s|
|11||Thai AirAsia X||6||5 A330-300s|
|12||Norwegian Air Shuttle||5||5 787-8s|
|Jin Air||4||4 777-200s|
|16||Lion Air||3||3 A330-300s|
|WOW Air||3||3 A330-300s|
|Thai Lion Air||3||3 A330-300s|
|19||French Bee||2||1 A330-300, 1 A350-900|
|Indonesia AirAsia X||2||2 A330-300s|
Critical element to LCCs: differentiation
Much debate about long haul LCCs is on how much difference they can establish from incumbents. The high service and high cost of a Korean, and especially Japanese, full service airline creates room for marked differentiation.
There are reasons for LCCs holding multiple AOCs
Full service airlines have often established short haul/low cost and long haul/low cost airlines because the existing full service AOC has restrictions ranging from local costs to unions to the airline's self-imposed restrictions based on the service it wants to deliver.
Such constraints are not new to Japan and Korea. For Asiana, it was better to establish a second LCC (Air Seoul) than expand its first LCC (Air Busan). Korean Air's LCC, Jin Air, already operates widebody aircraft.
Similarly to Asiana, ANA maintained two LCCs (Peach and Vanilla), although these will be consolidated by 2020. ANA is expected to operate its fleet of three A380s (all serving Hawaii) on a slightly different platform from that of ANA mainline. Details are still to be confirmed.
This could result in Japan Airlines needing to show a competitive response. If Jetstar Japan remains uninterested in long haul operations, or JAL wants to coordinate routes only among fully owned units, JAL may need to consider new platforms also.
Outlook: creating growth; the major airlines have varying resources
Launching a new airline requires capital, and all the more so for a long haul operation where the necessity of larger aircraft means higher lease payments or ownership costs. As operating expenses are higher, there is greater demand on cash flow.
A new independent long haul-only LCC is difficult to foresee. More likely a development is that an existing LCC will extend into long haul flights, or a full service airline will establish a low cost, long haul airline.
ANA and JAL are suited to high capital expenditure. Both are cashed up and – a rarity in the industry – under shareholder pressure to spend cash reserves. Both have large order backlogs (mostly of widebody aircraft), and tend to take delivery of aircraft under direct ownership instead of via lessors.
ANA and JAL fleet ownership comparison: as at 19-Mar-2018
A long haul LCC might be a distraction for Asiana, which is using the new LCC Air Seoul to make gains in the short haul LCC market. Asiana mainline needs to grow long haul to have a more relevant overall market.