Low Cost Carriers (LCCs)
A key structural change in aviation over the past decade has been the proliferation of low-cost carriers (LCCs). The low-cost model has overwhelmingly been the favoured mode of airline start-up over the period, and their spread around the world, into both short- and long-haul markets, has caused a fundamental shift in the competitive dynamic of the industry.
'Classic' characteristics of the low-cost model include:
- High seating density;
- High aircraft utilisation;
- Single aircraft type;
- Low fares, including very low promotional fares;
- Single class configuration;
- Point-to-point services;
- No (free) frills;
- Predominantly short- to medium-haul route structures;
- Frequent use of second-tier airports;
- Rapid turnaround time at airports.
1,028 total articles
Norwegian plans to add US routes to its Edinburgh base, a development considered in part 1 of this report, adding to its growing list of European long haul bases. However, its Edinburgh-US routes will use new Boeing 737MAX-8 aircraft – its first deployment of narrowbodies for long haul. It has also ordered 30 Airbus A321neoLRs for long haul use. Narrowbodies open up new possibilities for routes between the UK (or other European markets) and the US east coast.
Norwegian also plans to add non-US destinations to its UK long haul network, with details expected during the course of 2017. Norwegian's flexibility to develop its long haul operations from the UK would be improved by the grant of a US foreign carrier permit to its UK-registered subsidiary, Norwegian Air UK.
Norwegian has had to surmount many obstacles to build and grow its global network – which may also include Latin America in 2017, when it will accelerate long haul ASK growth to 60%. However its rapid expansion, currently driven mainly by long haul growth, has led to a rapid increase in debt, and is likely to weigh on unit revenue. Norwegian's undoubted strategic innovation can only be sustained if it is financially successful.
Norwegian's plans to add Edinburgh to its long haul bases are a further indication of its constantly evolving strategic development. Driven mainly by long haul, Norwegian returned to strong growth in 2016 after a respite in 2015. Norwegian's 2017 expansion plans will make the LCC Scandinavia's largest airline by passenger numbers, ahead of the legacy airline rival SAS.
The UK is Norwegian's biggest European long haul market outside Scandinavia. This has so far been based entirely on its network at London Gatwick, where its weekly seat capacity to the US now equals that of the market leader Virgin Atlantic. However, Norwegian is looking beyond Gatwick and will add trans-Atlantic routes from Edinburgh in 2017, for the first time deploying a narrowbody (Boeing 737MAX-8) on its long haul network. It has yet to announce the US destinations from the Scottish capital, and also plans to fly to the US from other UK cities.
This report considers Norwegian's Edinburgh long haul plans in the context of its existing UK operations. Part 2 looks at Norwegian's use of narrowbodies for long haul and the application by its UK subsidiary for a US permit. Part 2 also touches on the financial impact of Norwegian's rapid growth.
When Lufthansa began to transfer point-to-point short haul routes to its LCC Germanwings in 2013 it specifically excluded routes to/from its two main hubs at Munich and Frankfurt. Although its two main hubs have been less penetrated by LCCs than many other major European airports, this is changing. Moreover, competitor LCCs are growing rapidly across Germany and in other Lufthansa Group home markets. Even Air France-KLM established a Munich base for its LCC Transavia in summer 2016 (but this is under review). More ominously, Ryanair is to enter Frankfurt in summer 2017.
Lufthansa first revealed in summer 2016 that it was considering opening a Munich base for its LCC operations, now grouped under the Eurowings brand. On 21-Dec-2016 it announced plans to base four A320 family aircraft at Munich for 32 Eurowings routes from summer 2017.
Perhaps it was always inevitable that Eurowings would eventually extend to selected routes from Frankfurt and Munich, but agreements with pilots were understood to have limited the group's flexibility. Confirmation that the operation of Eurowings routes at Munich will be outsourced to airberlin under wet lease appears to have loosened this restriction. Eurowings routes from Frankfurt are also being considered.
Two years on from its Dec-2014 launch Aeroflot's LCC subsidiary Pobeda is firmly established as the fifth largest airline in Russia by seats, with a 6.8% share in the domestic market (week of 19-Dec-2016, source: OAG). Bucking the trend of declining traffic in the Russian market – which is being dragged down by falling international demand – Pobeda is growing rapidly.
Although still strongly domestically focused, the Moscow Vnukovo-based airline commenced international operations in Feb-2016 and will have launched 12 international routes during the course of 2016.
On a city pair basis, 23 of the 41 Pobeda routes in 2016 are not operated by other Aeroflot Group airlines. There are 17 Moscow routes (and one from Saint Petersburg) flown by both Pobeda and Aeroflot from different airports. An important part of the Aeroflot Group's multi-brand strategy, Pobeda is the only LCC in Russia and has stimulated demand among price-sensitive passengers in point-to-point markets.
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.
On 15-Dec-2016 Lufthansa’s Executive Board formally decided to exercise its call option for the 55% of shares it does not already own in the parent company of Brussels Airlines. The deal will close by the beginning of Jan-2017. It had been expected that Lufthansa would fold Brussels Airlines, at least partly, into its Eurowings low cost brand. Lufthansa has now confirmed that the new acquisition will join Eurowings and be fully integrated into the Group as of 2018.
Nevertheless, there are clear differences between Brussels Airlines' business model and that of Eurowings. Brussels Airlines is a network airline (and a Star Alliance member), while Eurowings is primarily a point-to-point airline. Furthermore, Brussels Airlines is not low cost in CASK terms, although, ominously, its unit cost is below Eurowings'.
Strangely, and perhaps tellingly, Brussels Airlines will retain its brand while adding that of Eurowings. This hints at the tension between Lufthansa's urge to expand Eurowings rapidly to compete with LCCs and the necessity to work out exactly how Brussels Airlines can fit into its low cost operation. Perhaps the delay between completion of the Brussels Airlines acquisition and its integration into Eurowings will give time for further refinements to the model. In short, Lufthansa has a lot of balls in the air. Where they will fall will be critical to its future.