In 2016 Air France-KLM's long haul network generated more profit than the group as a whole. Yet the dependence of Air France-KLM's profits on the long haul business is under threat from more cost efficient competitors, in particular the Gulf based super connectors. Moreover, Air France-KLM's main European competitors IAG, and now Lufthansa, have developed a clear lead in developing commercial partnerships with Gulf airlines.
Air France-KLM's 2016 operating margin was its highest since before the global financial crisis, but remained below its pre crisis peaks and well below the rest of the world airline industry in what was almost certainly a new record year for global margins. Within the group, KLM's margin improved and was again higher than that of Air France, whose margin fell.
The planned new lower cost airline to be based at Paris CDG as a subsidiary of Air France, announced in outline in 2016 under the project name 'Boost', will now include medium haul in addition to long haul routes. This will be vital to setting it back on a path to sustainable profitability – if agreement can be reached with pilot unions to launch it. Even then, its scope and low cost ambitions will be limited.
Both Finnair and TAP are based in peripheral corners of Europe: Finnair in the extreme northeast and TAP in the southwest. Both are based in countries with relatively small populations, but they have developed networks that capitalise on their geographic location to carry connecting traffic from across Europe and elsewhere to long haul destinations in other continents.
TAP's main long haul market is Upper South America (primarily Brazil), but it also has a secondary long haul niche in Africa. Finnair's main long haul market is Northeast Asia, with an additional presence in South and Southeast Asia. Both also operate to the US. On short haul, LCC competition has been a bigger threat to TAP than to Finnair, but cost savings are important to both.
TAP and Finnair have similar traffic volumes, unit costs and average trip lengths. Moreover, both have struggled to generate sustainable profitability. This report compares and contrasts Europe's two leading independent exponents of the location based long haul niche strategy. Both are set to accelerate their long haul growth.