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Alaska Air Group ups merger synergy targets as the margins for 2017 compress
Alaska Air Group has revised projected synergies from its merger with Virgin America upwards in both costs and revenue as it leverages the power of a larger network with a broader footprint in California, and uses the combined fleet to maximise profitability on transcontinental routes by placing higher gauge aircraft in those markets.
The existing Airbus narrowbodies operated by Virgin America will remain in the combined airline’s fleet for the foreseeable future. As a result, those aircraft are being reconfigured to offer standard interiors, including Alaska’s first class seat.
Similarly to Virgin America prior to the merger, Alaska has decided that a lie flat seat offering does not fit into its strategy in the contested US transcontinental market. In fact, choosing not to develop a lie flat product could put Alaska in a more favourable position when an (inevitable) economic down cycle occurs.
Despite the more favourable synergy estimates, Alaska will face some margin pressure due to Virgin America’s overall lower margin business. However, even though its margins are likely to drop in 2017, Alaska is stressing that its pretax margin performance will best the industry average.
US airlines Part 2: LCCs and ULCCs face the same cost overhang as their larger rivals
US low cost carriers and ULCCs observed many of the same trends in the country’s marketplace at the end of 2016 as their large global network rivals – namely, that weak pricing trends in the domestic market were improving. Each airline has its own nuanced view of that general operating environment, but they feel encouraged by what they hope is an inflection point in pricing that will lay the groundwork for a return to positive unit revenue.
Those lower cost and ultra-low cost airlines also face similar challenges to their larger counterparts – cost pressure from new labour contracts and rising oil prices. And like their larger rivals, most of the lower cost US airlines are plotting lower capacity growth in 2017 as a means to improve their respective revenue performances.
For now, pricing improvement that began in late 3Q2016 and a bump in demand after the US presidential election are sustaining the cautious optimism expressed by US airlines as 2017 gets under way. But no US airline is ready to declare that pricing traction in the country’s domestic market is on a sustained upswing.
This is Part 2 of two reports examining the outlook for US airlines in 2017.