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The US Big 3 work to preserve their unit cost performance as labour talks heat up

The paradox of margin expansion and unit revenue contraction will continue for most US airlines into 2Q2016 as those companies work to alleviate investor concern and set a course for a positive unit revenue trajectory. But maintaining favourable unit costs is key for the continued margin expansion forecast by the three large US airlines – American, Delta and United.

Although fuel prices have been rising, energy costs remain below historical levels, which is helping American, Delta and United to keep their unit costs in check. Excluding fuel, each airline has varying forecasts for 2016 driven by different inputs, including rising labour costs and profit-sharing.

American’s unit costs during the past year have been affected by labour contracts it reached with pilots and flight attendants in 2015. Delta and United will also likely need to weather labour cost increases as both companies are in the process of negotiating contracts with different employee groups. Many US airlines face uncertainty in their cost performance in the future as they work towards favourable contract terms that preserve their efforts to contain costs. And so the wheel turns.

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