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- British Airways Plc,
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China Eastern Airlines
British Airways (BA) is the national carrier of the United Kingdom, a subsidiary of publicly-listed International Consolidated Airlines Group (IAG). BA’s extensive network, including that of franchise partners SUN-AIR and Comair (South Africa), includes services to Europe, North America, Latin America, Canada, Africa, Asia and Australia. Using a fleet of wide and narrow-bodied aircraft, the carrier operates freight and passenger services from it's three London hubs - Heathrow Airport, Gatwick Airport and London City Airport. BA is a founding member of the oneworld alliance.
Location of British Airways main hub (London Heathrow Airport)
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362 total articles
IAG has detailed plans to start long haul low cost airline flights from Barcelona to the US, Latin America and Asia in Jun-2017. The project involves two Airbus A330s and will create up to 250 new jobs. Tickets for the first destinations are expected to be on sale by Feb-2017 or Mar-2017.
One of the key outstanding issues is which IAG airline brand will operate the flights. In an interview published on 22-Dec-2016 by La Vanguardia, the widely read and respected Barcelona newspaper, CEO Willie Walsh said that IAG may create a new brand for the project. British Airways, Iberia or even Aer Lingus – which has the lowest unit cost among IAG's long haul airlines – are also possibilities. However, Vueling "will continue in its strategy of European flights".
Among Europe's big three legacy airline groups, IAG is the only one not to have announced long haul low cost plans previously, although its LCC strategy has been the most successful in short/medium haul. Plans by the LCC Norwegian to launch long haul routes from Barcelona in 2017 may have had a catalytic effect on IAG's thinking. In the past IAG has been proactive in creating new platforms, while this move appears a little more reactive.
A vote on 14-Dec-2016 by British Airways 'mixed fleet' cabin crew raises the real threat of strike action - and, as is often the case, in the lead up to a peak holiday period. This would be the first serious industrial action since strikes by cabin crew protesting at the 2010 introduction of mixed fleet crew. BA, and its parent IAG, have been praised by many observers (including CAPA) for their resolve in driving through important restructuring programmes in legacy airlines, while their European peers have fallen behind the field. A crucial part of this has been to generate labour productivity improvements, often in the face of union resistance.
British Airways has a good track record in improving the efficiency of its workforce, as measured by ASKs per employee. In 2015 it made its highest-ever operating profit margin, beating Europe's other major legacy airlines, and it looks likely to improve on this once again in 2016. However, it does not have a great record of lowering unit labour cost.
Moreover, BA is currently experiencing falling unit revenue. With help from lower fuel prices receding, cutting ex fuel unit cost will be vital if BA is to fight off the margin squeeze resulting from unit revenue weakness. Labour is a key element of ex fuel cost, so the cabin crew dispute is a test of BA's resolve.
Pilot strikes at Lufthansa. Again. A strike ballot among British Airways cabin crew. A guilty verdict for Air France workers who assaulted an executive during a union protest. These were all headlines in late Nov-2016, following Air France pilot and cabin crew strikes in summer 2016. Labour relations at Europe's three biggest legacy airline groups are an ongoing challenge.
A CAPA report in Jun-2016 highlighted the growing number of articles on CAPA's website mentioning the word 'strike'. It raised the possibility that if the rate continued through the year, 2016 could be the biggest year for strike-related articles since before the global financial crisis. With a little under a month still to go, this year has already comfortably passed this milestone.
To a large extent labour unrest grows as airline industry profits increase. However, rather than hoping for an industry downturn to reverse the rise in the cycle of strikes, airline CEOs are talking tough – a line long taken by IAG's Willie Walsh. Lufthansa's Carsten Spohr has said that taking on the pilots is "about the future of Lufthansa", noting that it has “no chance of survival" if it gives in to pay demands (Bloomberg, 24-Nov-2016).
IAG's Capital Markets Day on 4-Nov-2016 was the first since its formation in 2011 when it lowered any of its medium term financial targets. It cut its 2016-2020 average EBITDAR goal, in spite of adding in Aer Lingus for the first time. This followed two cuts to 2016 operating profit guidance during the course of this year, as a result of "a tough operating environment". It has been hit by adverse currency movements, mainly resulting from the UK's Brexit vote, in addition to ATC strikes and terrorist events.
To its credit, IAG has responded to the more challenging trading conditions by lowering its planned capacity growth and capital expenditure during its 2016-2020 strategic plan. These steps are necessary if it is to have a chance of meeting its ambitious goal to sustain a 15% return on invested capital. This target is unchanged, despite the lower profit outlook.
In 3Q2016, IAG's rolling four quarter return on capital fell, after rising more or less continuously since it began to target this measure in 2013. It has consistently been more profitable than either of its two main European legacy airline group rivals (Air France-KLM and Lufthansa). Nevertheless, the downward step highlights the challenge in meeting its own demanding target.
Qatar Airways turns 20 in 2017. The once tiny regional airline has become a global powerhouse and is reshaping oneworld, the alliance to which it belongs. Qatar has stakes in IAG and LATAM, and Qatar Airways CEO H.E. Akbar Al Baker has told CAPA that in the near future he expects Qatar to make acquisitions in two additional airlines, aside from Meridiana. He said the additional airlines would be successful airlines, as "We are not going to collect crap".
Strategic partnerships without equity are important; Mr Al Baker hopes American Airlines will cease its partnership with Etihad Airways and work solely with Qatar Airways, even forging a multilateral JV anchored around American, British Airways/IAG and Qatar. Qatar is heading towards a fleet of 250 aircraft in 2-2.5 years' time. Mr Al Baker expects recently ordered 787-9s to replace 787-8s, while an LoI for 737 MAX 8s will be to replace Qatar's A320s and grow that fleet.
As the US-Gulf airline dispute loses momentum with the American government, the big Middle East aeropolitical debate will now shift across the Atlantic to Europe, where the European Commission has a mandate to try to negotiate an open skies agreement with Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, as well as other countries/blocs, including Turkey and ASEAN.
Qatar Airways CEO H.E. Akbar Al Baker gave a keynote presentation at the recent CAPA-ACTE Global Aviation Summit in Amsterdam and addressed the subject of the EU mandate. Mr Al Baker called for unquestionable third and fourth freedom liberalisation and eventual fifth freedom liberalisation. The devil as always is in the detail; the non-EU airlines in the negotiations are sceptical about how the EU will define a "fair competition" clause, and whether it will be left abstract enough that "fair competition" could potentially be used against airlines in a way they have not envisaged. The Brexit referendum could result in the EU negotiating side losing the UK, whose liberal views have balanced those of the more protectionist France and Germany.