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Analysis for Global

Spirit Airlines makes some progress in operations, but still lags its peers in key metrics


Operational improvement is a top priority for Spirit Airlines' new CEO, who has held the position for just six months. Data from the US government show that Spirit is making progress in some areas of operations, but still lags behind other US airlines. As the busy summer season kicks into full force, Spirit’s commitment to improving operations could be put to the test.

As Spirit’s rivals hone their product segmentation strategies to match Spirit’s low fares, operational improvement takes on a whole new level of importance for the ultra-low cost airline and its particular business model. Spirit’s ULCC rival Frontier is outperforming Spirit in some operational metrics.

Spirit is in undergoing other changes, including a change in its fleet mix to smaller-gauge Airbus narrowbodies. The company has intimated that it would examine smaller markets in the future to decrease competition with larger airlines. Many of the new routes that Spirit has introduced in 2016 feature Southwest and Delta as competitors and it appears that Spirit now has the largest network overlap with Southwest, rather than with American Airlines.

Garuda Indonesia Part 4: revised fleet plan leads to new narrowbody and widebody orders


Garuda Indonesia is close to completing a new 10-year fleet plan outlining narrowbody and widebody growth. An overdue order for new generation widebody aircraft, along with a top-up order for 737 MAX narrowbodies, is expected by the end of 2016, potentially at the upcoming Farnborough Airshow.

The new fleet plan supports an ambitious plan to expand Garuda’s international network – both regionally and in the long haul sector. Garuda is also striving to strengthen its domestic position further with narrowbody growth.

According to CEO Arif Wibowo, the group's new overall strategy is: “To dominate the domestic market, expand regional where the opportunities are and subsidise long haul growth.” This is the fourth and final part of a comprehensive series of analysis reports published by CAPA on the Garuda Indonesia Group.

Alaska Air Group and Virgin: Running two brands is a growing trend. Working them is the hard bit


One of the most discussed aspects of the pending merger between Alaska Air Group and Virgin America is how Alaska would navigate the sensitivities of dissolving the Virgin America brand, given the fierce brand loyalty that Virgin America engenders among higher-yielding passengers. Now it appears that Alaska is giving serious consideration to retaining the Virgin America brand.

Although sustaining two brands post-merger is rare in the US industry, the combination of Alaska and Virgin America is unique in many aspects – most notable is that both brands generate strong positive sentiment among customers. That has not been the case for some US airline mergers, where in some cases a less popular or less prominent brand was retired.

Despite the complexities inherent in running separate brands, there are valid business reasons for Alaska to seriously evaluate the pros and cons of adopting that strategy. One important factor is preserving the levels of revenue that made the deal attractive in the first place.

Alaska, jetBlue and Southwest cost projections; good in the short term but long term challenges loom


Just as the large three global US airlines – American, Delta and United – work to contain their unit costs, their rivals Alaska, jetBlue and Southwest are committed to keeping their respective unit costs in line as the current revenue environment in the US remains weak.

The latter three airlines face different cost dynamics in the future. Alaska is attempting to embark on a merger with Virgin America, which will inevitably create some cost pressure as the full integration gets under way. Southwest is in the middle of complex pilot and flight attendant negotiations, which makes predicting its cost performance in the near- to mid-term difficult. At some point jetBlue will also conclude a new pilot contract that will affect its cost structure.

Cost performance results for Alaska, jetBlue and Southwest for 2Q2016 and the full year look reasonably favourable, although Alaska has refined its 2016 targets slightly, driven in part by increases in performance-based pay. But its costs should remain competitive compared with its peers, and solidly lower than those of the larger network carriers.

The US Big 3 work to preserve their unit cost performance as labour talks heat up


The paradox of margin expansion and unit revenue contraction will continue for most US airlines into 2Q2016 as those companies work to alleviate investor concern and set a course for a positive unit revenue trajectory. But maintaining favourable unit costs is key for the continued margin expansion forecast by the three large US airlines – American, Delta and United.

Although fuel prices have been rising, energy costs remain below historical levels, which is helping American, Delta and United to keep their unit costs in check. Excluding fuel, each airline has varying forecasts for 2016 driven by different inputs, including rising labour costs and profit-sharing.

American’s unit costs during the past year have been affected by labour contracts it reached with pilots and flight attendants in 2015. Delta and United will also likely need to weather labour cost increases as both companies are in the process of negotiating contracts with different employee groups. Many US airlines face uncertainty in their cost performance in the future as they work towards favourable contract terms that preserve their efforts to contain costs. And so the wheel turns.

Avianca works to attain its leverage leverage goals by slashing its capex commitments through 2019


Latin American airline group Avianca Holdings is joining its counterparts based in the region by taking steps to de-lever in order to equip itself properly to withstand continuing economic weakness in the region. One of the most important changes Avianca has undertaken in 2016 is re-engineering its order book with Airbus to cut deliveries from 2017 to 2019, which is pivotal in order for Avianca to reach its leverage targets.

Nearly every Latin American airline group during the past year has taken several steps to slow its fleet growth as the region’s economy is forecast to contract for a second consecutive year in 2016. Although Avianca’s yield declines improved (reduced) sequentially from 4Q2016 to 1Q2016, the second quarter is typically the weakest period for the airline, which could mean that its yield performance will slide before possibly showing some slight improvement in 2H016.

Despite the tough conditions, Avianca has a relatively optimistic outlook as it works to rework its fleet commitments and cut costs. Avianca still plans to expand capacity in 2016, but its growth is falling well below the 8% increase that the company posted in 2015.

CAPA Australia Pacific Aviation Summit: CAPA launches topics and line-ups for biggest ever event


Key speakers and agenda topics for the CAPA Australia Pacific Summit 2016 have been unveiled, featuring an extensive initial line-up of local and foreign airline and airport CEOs, industry regulators, technology experts and industry leaders. The Summit will be held at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre on 3-5 August and is proudly hosted by Brisbane Marketing and Foundation Partner, Brisbane Airport Corporation.

The biggest aviation and travel strategy Summit of the year, it comprises five events in one:

  • Airport Innovation Summit, 3 August
  • Training & Safety Summit, 3 August
  • Corporate Travel innovation Summit, 4 August
  • Australia Pacific Aviation Summit, 4-5 August
  • CAPA Gala Dinner, 4 August

ULCCs, hybrid airlines in the Americas. True LCCs start to look like a vanishing species


During the mid-2000s the term hybrid business model entered the North American aviation business vernacular as low cost airlines became more sophisticated, adding elements to their strategy outside the boundaries of the traditional low cost blueprint pioneered by Southwest Airlines. Fast forward to 2016, and the term hybrid is becoming outdated, as low cost airlines in North America have adopted many of the same product attributes as full service airlines, and as those airlines have blended in many low cost elements.

North American airlines can now be categorised into four business models – full service airlines; low cost, high value airlines; ultra-low cost airlines; and Southwest, which still aspires to the low cost paradigm but does not offer the product attributes of more upscale low cost airlines. jetBlue has pushed the boundaries of low cost product evolution with its successful Mint experiment, featuring a fully lie-flat business seat, but no other North American low cost airline has (yet) decided to follow suit. Canada's low cost model, WestJet, has hybridised, adding a regional fleet in Westjet Encore, expanding its competitive bandwidth against its main domestic opponent and going long haul on the Atlantic.

In the less mature Latin American aviation market, the low cost airline model is still evolutionary, with the exception of Mexico where three low cost airlines and one full service airline are competing to lure passengers from bus travel. Brazil and Colombia also have low cost airline representation, but the spread of the business model is generally slower in South America, partially due to challenges from the cumbersome regulations that the start-up companies face in bringing their visions to fruition.

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