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Icelandair, Iberia, Qatar, Wizz, AirAsia’s Fernandes, London City, Vancouver, ABB win CAPA awards

Icelandair, Qatar Airways and Wizz Air received the top airline awards at the 2016 CAPA Aviation Awards for Excellence, held on 27-Oct-2016 in Amsterdam as part of the ACTE-CAPA 2016 Global Summit. London City and Vancouver were winners in the airport categories, picking up awards at a gala dinner hosted by Travelport. AirAsia Group CEO Tony Fernandes scooped the executive award and Air Black Box won the innovation category.

Now in its fourteenth year, CAPA’s Aviation Awards for Excellence are intended to reward airlines and airports that are not only successful but have also provided industry leadership in an always changing environment. At a time of industry upheaval, our winners are adopting strategies that offer new directions for others to take.

Award candidates were independently researched and short-listed by a team analysts at CAPA - Centre for Aviation and partners at Heidrick & Struggles. Winners were then selected by an independent global panel of eight judges.

The judges for the 2016 global awards included: Ben Baldanza, Jon Boyle, Giorgio De Roni, Rigas Doganis, Peter Harbison, Andrew Herdman, Barry Humphreys, and Professor Nawal Taneja. Brendan Sobie from CAPA and Con Korfiatis from Heidrick & Struggles were the co-moderators.

Qatar Airways was named the CAPA Airline of the Year. This award is given to the airline that has been the biggest standout strategically during the year, has had the greatest impact on the development of the airline industry, established itself as a leader, and provided a benchmark for others to follow.

Qatar Airways Group CEO Akbar Al Baker accepted the award from CAPA Executive Chairman Peter Harbison.

Qatar was selected for its innovative strategy in a dynamic region, becoming the first major Gulf carrier to join a global alliance. Over the last year Qatar has continued to make bold moves, acquiring an equity stake in LATAM and following up its earlier equity stake in IAG by pursuing a joint venture with British Airways.

“Qatar Airways has been a standout with its ambitious growth and bold partnership strategy,” Mr Harbison said. “Qatar’s equity stake and tie up with IAG is a major strategic development, shaking up the industry and prompting others to relook at partnership options.”

CAPA noted that Qatar also has continued to rapidly expand its network and fleet. It was the launch customer for the A350 and one of the first operators of the 787. Qatar’s expansion in the Asia Pacific region was recognised last year by CAPA with the 2015 Asia Pacific Airline of the Year award.

Qatar has quadrupled in size over the last decade and is now profitable. Qatar has a fleet of almost 200 aircraft with nearly another 300 aircraft on order. It is also now among the world’s largest cargo airlines.

Wizz Air was named the CAPA Low Cost Airline of the Year. This award is given to the low cost airline that has been the biggest standout strategically, established itself as a leader, been most innovative, and provided a benchmark for others to follow.

Wizz Air CEO Jozsef Varadi accepted the award from Mr Harbison.

Wizz Air was selected by the judging panel for its consistent strong performance and rapid growth in a challenging region. Capacity was up 20% in the last fiscal year. Wizz Air is now the market leader in Hungary, Romania and Macedonia and has a strong presence throughout Central/Eastern Europe including in Poland, Bulgaria, Lithuania and Latvia.

“Wizz Air has been a standout in Europe for several years and particularly since its 2015 IPO,” Mr Harbison said. “Wizz Air has been profitable for seven consecutive years, has the highest ancillary revenues per passengers in Europe and has among the lowest unit costs in Europe.”

CAPA noted that Wizz Air’s market share in Central/Eastern Europe is now approaching 45%, an impressive achievement given the competitive landscape and large number of countries in the region. Wizz has doubled its passenger traffic over the last five years and now serves more than 100 destinations with a fleet of over 70 aircraft.

Icelandair was named the CAPA Regional Airline of the Year. This award is given to the regional airline that has been the biggest standout strategically, has established itself as a leader and demonstrated innovation in the regional aviation sector. This award is intended to recognize smaller airlines or airline groups with annual passenger traffic of less than 10 million.

Icelandair CEO Birkir Holm Gudnason accepted the award from Travelport Senior VP & MD Air Commerce Group Derek Sharp.

Icelandair was selected by the judging panel for its strong performance in a small market that has experienced intensifying LCC competition. Icelandair has grown rapidly and has one of the highest operating margins among legacy airline groups.

“Icelandair has achieved remarkable results and growth in the face of strong and growing LCC competition,” Mr Harbison said. “Its innovative connecting traffic strategy, which focuses on sixth freedom traffic between Europe and North America, has driven growth along with its promotion of Iceland as a tourist destination.”

CAPA noted that Icelandair Group’s passenger traffic was up 16% in 2015 while its net profit improved by over 60%. Such growth and profitability levels are unusual for a small European full service airline. The group, which includes domestic turboprop operator Air Iceland and charter/wet lease operator Loftleidir, has annual passenger traffic of nearly 4 million. The parent airline has a fleet of 30 aircraft consisting almost entirely of single aisle aircraft.

Iberia was named the CAPA Airline Turnaround of the Year. This award is given to the airline that has had the most impressive turnaround while establishing an innovative strategic direction for their business and the industry.

Iberia CEO Luis Gallego received the award from Mr Harbison.

Iberia recorded its first positive operating result in 2014 since the global financial crisis and in 2015 confirmed its turnaround with its operating profit increasing almost fivefold. Iberia’s operating margin was up 4ppts in 2015 to 5.2%, its best showing since 2005.

“Iberia’s turnaround in the challenging Spanish market has been remarkable,” Mr Harbison said. “Iberia has achieved major labour productivity improvements, quite an accomplishment in Europe, and unit cost reductions. Strategically the establishment and expansion of Iberia Express has demonstrated that it is possible for legacy European airlines to combine an LCC cost base with a full service brand.”

CAPA noted that the significant improvement in profitability has come while Iberia has resumed expansion, with double digit capacity growth in 2015. Iberia was the biggest contributor to ASK growth at parent IAG in 2015.

AirAsia Group CEO Tony Fernandes was named the CAPA Airline Chief Executive of the Year. This award is given to the executive who has had the greatest individual influence on the aviation industry, demonstrating outstanding strategic thinking and innovative direction for the growth of their business and the industry.

Mr Fernandes accepted the Airline Chief Executive of the Year award from Mr Harbison.

The judging panel selected Mr Fernandes for his decision to re-engage and adopt a more hands-on management style after a few years of focusing more on interests outside the AirAsia Group. Financial results have improved significantly in 2016 following an extremely challenging 2015.

AirAsia is back at the front of the pack in the challenging Asian market and Tony has once again shown why he is one of the industry’s leading executives,” Mr Harbison said. “After formulating and implementing the now-widespread cross-border joint venture concept, the AirAsia group led the way in expanding its network through connectivity between its AirAsia (short haul) and (long haul) AirAsia X brands. The original short haul operations in Malaysia and Thailand are again among the most profitable airlines in Asia while losses in Indonesia and Philippines have been reduced following restructurings and are expected to be profitable again in 2H2016. Long haul LCC AirAsia X is also back in the black following a restructuring.”

CAPA noted the AirAsia Group’s outlook also has been boosted with new capital raised from the issuance of new shares to Tony. With Tony back in the driver seat, new opportunities are now being pursued in North Asia including expansion in China and the upcoming relaunch of an affiliate in Japan. AirAsia also has launched a new aircraft leasing business which is expected to be spun off, raising more capital and reducing group leverage.

Vancouver International Airport was named CAPA Airport of the Year. This award is given to the airport that has been the biggest standout strategically, established itself as a leader and done the most to advance the progress of the aviation industry.

Vancouver International Airport VP Operations and Maintenance Steve Hankinson accepted the award from Mr Harbison on behalf of CEO Craig Richmond. Vancouver was selected by the judging panel for its innovative marketing strategy and approach for incentivising growth. Since the beginning of 2015 four new international airlines have launched services to Vancouver and 16 new routes (including 12 international) have been added by existing airlines. The growth was partially driven by a new integrated marketing strategy and a new five year rate programme offering 15% savings, giving Vancouver the lowest rates among major airport in North America.

Vancouver also has been a leader on the technology and environmental fronts. Last year the airport received an innovation award from CAPA for its BORDERXPRESS Automated Control Kiosks, which has reduced waiting times by more than 50% and is now in use at 32 airports across North America and the Caribbean. Vancouver Airport has achieved a 32% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions per passenger over the last decade and is the first airport to secure a salmon safe certification, highlighting its commitment to protect water quality and aquatic life. 

“Vancouver Airport continues to be an industry leader on several fronts, enabling it to achieve impressive growth,” Mr Harbison said. “The airport also has a unique governance structure with a community-based, not-for-profit airport authority that reinvests all profits back into airport operations and development. Under this structure Vancouver Airport has been able to set and implement a highly successful strategy.”

Vancouver’s passenger traffic was up 5% in 2015 to 20.3 million and is on track to break this record with an expected 23 million passengers in 2016. The airport is now linked with over 120 nonstop destinations.

London City Airport was named CAPA Regional Airport of the Year. This award is given to the regional airport that has been the biggest standout strategically, has established itself as a leader and done the most to advance the progress of the aviation industry. This award is intended to recognize smaller airports with annual passenger traffic of less than 10 million.

London City Airport CEO Declan Collier accepted the award from Mr Harbison.

London City was selected by the judging panel for adopting a strategy focusing on its role as the premier business airport for central London while embracing LCC opportunities in the face of numerous impediments. Low cost airlines have been introduced, improving the traffic mix and driving a new phase of growth. London City recorded 17% passenger growth in 2015 to 4.3 million passengers and has just completed a new pier to accommodate further growth.

“London City has overcome intensifying competition in the London area as well as political obstacles,” Mr Harbison said. “Despite these barriers it was the one of the fastest growing UK airports in 2015 with a passenger growth rate three times the national average.”

CAPA also noted the airport was sold at the highest earnings margin known to have been recorded for a commercial facility of this nature and scope – and despite the political concerns.

Air Black Box (ABB) won the CAPA Innovation of the Year award for its Air Connection Engine. This award is given to the airline, airport or supplier responsible for the most powerful innovation in the industry over the past 12 months.

Air Black Box Group Product Manager Timothy O'Neil-Dunne accepted the award from Mr Harbison along with Nok Air CEO Patee Sarasin. Thailand’s Nok Air and Singapore Airlines Group subsidiary Scoot are co-founders and shareholders in Air Black Box Asia Pacific, a joint venture with Vaultpad Ventures.

Air Black Box was selected by the judging panel for inventing and quickly implementing a revolutionary booking system that enables LCCs to connect and interline without the traditional complexities or cost. Air Black Box’s Air Connection Engine is the technology behind the Value Alliance and U-FLY Alliance – which became in early 2016 the world’s first two LCC alliances.

“The Air Connection Engine has provided a new innovative solution for a fast growing and important segment of the industry – LCC connectivity,” Mr Harbison said. “Previously LCCs seeking to interline or cross-sell had limited options. Thanks to Air Black Box there is now a solution which allows like-minded LCCs to partner by offering joint itineraries and, most significantly, do so with the ability to sell ancillaries on flights operated by the partner.”

CAPA noted that the technology can align disparate airline products and do not require airlines to change their product or technology to partner with another airline. Implementing tie-ups between LCCs – or between an LCC and network carriers – can now be done in just days, giving airlines an opportunity to quickly expand their virtual networks.


About CAPA, Heidrick & Struggles and the CAPA Aviation Awards for Excellence

Established in 1990, CAPA – Centre for Aviation is the leading provider of independent aviation market intelligence (publishing 500 stories every working day), analysis and data services, covering worldwide developments. Heidrick & Struggles is a premier professional services firm providing executive search, culture shaping and leadership consulting services. It has a specialist aviation team which works with airline, airport and the broader aviation industry, clients across the globe.

The CAPA Aviation Awards for Excellence have recognised strategic leadership in the aviation industry since 2002. The awards are not driven by customer surveys or sponsorship. They are independently researched by CAPA and Heidrick & Struggles and selected by an independent international panel of judges.

Initially limited to Asia Pacific and the Middle East, CAPA expanded the awards in 2012 to include all regions. This year the Aviation Awards of Excellence will be presented at two gala dinners, one for the global industry and one for Asia-Pacific including the Middle East.

The CAPA Asia Pacific Aviation Awards for Excellence will be awarded on 15-Nov-2106 in Singapore at the CAPA Asia Aviation Summit. For more information on the CAPA Asia Aviation Summit and awards dinner click CAPA Asia Summit: Aviation and Corporate Travel.

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