Mergers and Consolidation
178 total articles
Ryanair's 117million pax in 2016 tops European airline groups. The first time an LCC topped rankings
For the first time ever in Europe, in 2016 a low cost airline carried more passengers than any other airline or airline group, as Ryanair's 117 million passengers pushed Lufthansa Group's 110 million into second place. Ryanair had beaten Lufthansa itself, but not the whole Lufthansa Group. IAG's first full year of including Aer Lingus helped it to take third place from Air France-KLM. Europe's number two LCC, easyJet, was ranked fifth.
The big five can be expanded into a big seven to include Turkish Airlines and the Aeroflot Group, although these two had contrasting growth rates in 2016. A chasing pack of middle sized airline groups includes three LCCs (Norwegian, Pegasus and Wizz Air) and three legacy airlines with varying challenges to establishing sustainable profitability (SAS, Air Berlin Group and Alitalia).
Most of the faster growing airline groups in the top 20 are LCCs and the main growth drivers for Europe's big three legacy groups are their LCC subsidiaries. Just outside the top 20 are some fast growing legacy airlines in Eastern Europe, demonstrating the potential there. Nevertheless, unless there is a big merger or acquisition, Ryanair looks set to remain at number one for some time.
Lufthansa's supervisory board has approved the exercise of its call option to buy the remaining 55% of SN Airholding, the parent company of Brussels Airlines. Lufthansa acquired 45% of the company in 2009 and negotiated the option to buy the balance of the shares for no more than EUR250 million. The deal is expected to close in early 2017, once the details of the purchase have been agreed with the other SN Airholding shareholders.
Lufthansa and Brussels Airlines have an extensive codeshare agreement and are partners in the Star Alliance. Their existing relationship is such that Brussels Airlines already feels like a member of the Lufthansa Group. The main draw for Lufthansa has always been its Belgian partner's extensive African network (it is the number two airline on Western Europe-Central/Western Africa).
However, it now seems that Lufthansa will, at least partly, integrate Brussels Airlines into its Eurowings low cost brand. Lufthansa is keen to accelerate Eurowings' expansion through partners (and is also to wet-lease up to 35 aircraft from airberlin). Brussels Airlines' fleet and single-class configuration on short/medium haul should fit with Eurowings, but its unit cost and network airline business model are not characteristic of an LCC.
Ryanair's expansion and Brexit are among factors which may have prompted reports about possible consolidation and other forms of co-operation involving Germany's leading airlines. These include - apparently false - speculation that easyJet has considered buying a stake in TUIFly (possibly to ensure that it has access to EU traffic rights post Brexit) and that TUIFly, a charter airline with growing seat-only sales, may be integrated with airberlin subsidiary NIKI and the TUIFly aircraft currently operating airberlin routes under wet lease.
An expanded TUIFly operation could, perhaps, better withstand fast-growing competition from Ryanair in Germany, although these stories have been denied. A more definitive development, announced by both parties, is that up to 40 of airberlin's narrow body fleet will be wet-leased to Lufthansa Group for its LCC Eurowings and Austrian Airlines. Airberlin will also put its leisure operations into a separate unit. These moves should partly alleviate airberlin's overcapacity problems, while accelerating the growth of Eurowings (further boosted by the possible integration of Brussels Airlines into the LCC).
Even if the other stories prove mere speculative, the frequency of such reports highlights the need for consolidation in Europe, whose centre is Germany. Moreover, they throw light on the rapid pace of change in business models in what has historically been a very conservative aviation market.
At the ACI 26th General Assembly in Athens on 21-Jun-2016 the European Commission's DG Competition Henrik Mørch said that the EC has generally approved JVs but is closely watching consolidation trends. As reported in a CAPA news brief, Mr Mørch said that the EC is interested in how much consolidation can be justified with efficiency gains for the consumer.
He added that, while the European aviation market is more fragmented than the American market, taking the level of consolidation that exists in the US and applying it to Europe is "not necessarily something we would advocate for...there's too little competition in the American market in our view".
However, the level of concentration on the North Atlantic, the principal market where JVs have been approved by the Commission, is greater than in North America – the market that Mr Mørch considers too concentrated. Meanwhile, European fragmentation weighs heavily on its airlines' yields and holds back their profitability.
Part one of this report on European airline market structure and consolidation highlighted that the top twenty airline groups in Europe hold 75% of seats. This is the same share as the top six groups in North America. This equivalence, in market share terms, between Europe's top 20 and North America's top six underlines the huge gap in consolidation progress between the two regions' airlines. It would take a large number of merger and acquisition deals to recreate North America's market structure in Europe, consolidating 20 into six.
This second part of the report is a kind of fantasy, a hypothetical. It suggests an illustrative series of combinations among Europe's top 20 that would approximately replicate the market shares, in terms of seat share, held by North America's top six.
This would require large merger and acquisition transactions involving pairings between members of Europe's smaller top six of Lufthansa Group, IAG, Ryanair, Air France-KLM, Turkish Airlines and easyJet. It would also mean several deals involving second-tier FSCs and LCCs. However, for now the larger deals in Europe remain relatively unlikely, and there are even hurdles to the smaller deals.
Consolidation among Europe's airlines has always been fitful, and truly sizeable deals have ground to a halt in recent years. By comparison, North America has become the benchmark of airline consolidation progress. The announcement that Alaska Airlines is to acquire Virgin America once again highlights the differences in pace between Europe and North America.
This first part of CAPA's analysis of European airline market structure and consolidation compares market concentration in Europe with that of other world regions and looks at the link with profitability. It mainly focuses on comparing Europe with the other two large aviation markets, North America and Asia Pacific, but also gives data on market concentration for all of the other regions: Middle East, Latin America and Africa.
Europe's fragmented airline market is less profitable than its much more consolidated North American counterpart (although, on most measures, Europe is less fragmented than Asia Pacific). Europe's top 20 airline groups have the same seat share as North America's top 6.
Part two of this report considers a possible set of combinations to reassemble Europe's top 20 into six groups matching North America's top six.