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Analysis for Global

Spirit Airlines, Allegiant Air, face cost pressure in 2016; reduced fuel costs drove stellar 2015


A guiding principle for ultra-low cost carriers (ULCCs) is delivering a unit cost performance excluding fuel of USD6 cents or lower. Both of the publicly traded US ULCCs easily met that criterion in 2015, and based on calculations from the CAPA CASK database, Allegiant Air and Spirit Airlines posted sub-USD6 cents unit costs including fuel for 2015.

Maintaining cost discipline is paramount in any operating environment, but especially in the US domestic market where most airlines, including ULCCs, are having a tough time gaining pricing traction. Spirit and Allegiant both have some cost challenges looming in 2016 but are obviously attempting to keep their costs below the USD6 cent benchmark. Spirit expects to post a flat unit cost performance excluding fuel for 2016, even with the ratification of new flight attendant contract, but faces some maintenance headwinds throughout the year. Spirit is working to accomplish improved operations and generate more positive customer sentiment on a cost-neutral basis.

Allegiant is also facing cost pressure from the first batch of heavy maintenance on its Airbus narrowbody fleet, and from labour productivity challenges. However, over the long term Allegiant’s decision to accelerate the retirement of its MD-80s and move to a single fleet of Airbus narrowbodies should create some cost tailwinds in the medium term.

Chile's domestic airline market stable as Sky Airline tests the LCC model - and Paravai plans entry


Chile recorded a solid 9.7% increase in passenger growth for the first seven months of 2016, with domestic passengers growing 9% and international passenger growth reaching nearly 11%. Although Chile has not been immune to the economic degradation in Latin America, its economy is more stable than in other countries in the region.

Some changes have taken place in Chile’s domestic market during the last year – most notably the transition of the country’s second largest domestic airline Sky into a low cost carrier. As it has undertaken a change in its business model Sky’s international passenger numbers fell for the Jan-2016 to Jul-2016 time period, but the airline is adding some international markets in 2016 and 2017, upping competition with its familiar rival, LATAM Airlines Group.

Another airline aims to start operations in Chile during early 2017 with aspirations to compete with LATAM and Sky on domestic routes. Paravai Líneas Aéreas may not pose a huge threat, but its ambitions reflect a belief that perhaps Chile’s duopoly needs to be shaken up.

CAPA LCCs in North Asia Summit: Osaka, 13/14-Jun-2017 to be hosted by Kansai Airports


OSAKA, 22 September 2016 – CAPA - Centre for Aviation is pleased to announce that Osaka will be the host city for the annual CAPA LCCs in North Asia Summit on 13-14 June 2017.

The Summit, to be hosted by Kansai Airports, is one of the largest LCC gatherings in the region, attracting LCC CEOs from across Asia.

“Kansai International Airport as the gateway to Kansai region welcomes the CAPA LCCs in North Asia Summit in Osaka. We are extremely proud that this Summit will be hosted by Kansai Airports with the opportunity to introduce the attractiveness of the Kansai Region. For several years the LCC market has been on strong growth at KIX, where we have the number one LCC network among Japanese airports. We are really delighted to host this event in 2017 since our LCC Terminal extension will be completed by the first quarter next year”, said Yoshiyuki Yamaya, Representative Director and CEO, Kansai Airports, and Emmanuel Menanteau, Representative Director and Co-CEO, Kansai Airports.

Interjet’s international passengers soar with new US transborder push against Mexican and US rivals


International passenger numbers for the Mexican low cost airline Interjet skyrocketed more than 50% in the first seven months of 2016, reflecting the launch of more than 10 new international routes during that period, and with US transborder routes representing the bulk of Interjet’s international expansion.

Interjet is no doubt positioning itself to seize on opportunities created by a new, finalised bilateral between the US and Mexico that lifts restrictions on the number of airlines operating on specific routes between the two countries. Interjet’s rival Volaris has also grown its US transborder passengers in 2016, but it has a different route profile from that of Interjet. Generally, Interjet is subject to higher levels of competition on some of its transborder routes than Volaris, given that Interjet and Volaris offer different products to their passengers.

During the past two to three years Interjet and Volaris have been essentially tied for the coveted position of Mexico’s second largest domestic airline. But for the seven months ending Jul-2017 Volaris logged 22% domestic passenger growth, while Interjet’s passenger numbers inched down slightly, resulting in Volaris assuming full command of the second place ranking.

Southeast Asia-US airline market Part 2: at least 7 airlines to offer US nonstop services by 2021


The deployment of new generation ultra-long-range widebody aircraft is prompting several airlines to plan new nonstop services between Southeast Asia and the continental US. New variants of the A350 have particularly emerged as a new, more efficient and popular option for Southeast Asia-US flights, with orders over the past year from three Southeast Asian flag carriers.

On 5-Sep-2016 Vietnam Airlines became the latest Southeast Asian airline to commit to new generation ultra-long-range aircraft capable of new nonstop routes – joining Philippine Airlines and Singapore Airlines. Garuda Indonesia and Thai Airways are likely to follow, resulting in four Southeast Asian airlines operating nonstop flights to the US by early next decade, compared with only one currently.

Delta Air Lines may also join United Airlines with nonstop Southeast Asia-US services. There are opportunities in the Southeast Asia-US market for nonstop routes, but competition with one-stop products will be intense. Profitability will be heavily challenged or non-existent. SIA started the trend due to strategic, not financial, imperatives. Under the charm of low fuel prices, Southeast Asian airlines risk falling into the spell of "me too" nonstop flights, just as they did with over-sized aircraft acquisitions.

American, Delta and United's varying approaches to shareholder rewards & balance sheet management


The three large US global network airlines – American, Delta and United – are all at different phases of their respective balance sheet evolutions. Delta is enjoying its newly minted status of reaching investment grade according to two ratings agencies; United has decided to expand its level of shareholder returns after lagging its peers in that metric during its still ongoing merger integration. Even after recently deferring some Airbus widebody orders, American remains in the middle of a significant fleet revamp. The company is also still completing certain facets of its merger integration with US Airways, which is one driver for American’s larger cash balances compared with its global network peers.

Each of the three airlines seems to be striving for the right balance of investment in their businesses – maintaining a robust balance sheet and delivering ample shareholder returns. The difference is in the strategies followed.

Copa Airlines sees positive trends for Latin American demand. A full recovery remains distant


Panama’s Copa Airlines is joining other Latin American airlines in expressing cautious optimism that some negative trends in the region are starting to stabilise, after a tough couple of years of challenging economic conditions. Copa, in particular, believes that weakened demand is beginning to improve, driven in part by some currencies within Latin America that are strengthening against the USD.

For 2H2016 Copa is continuing to post stronger close-in bookings that began to improve in 2Q2016, which is a positive sign for airlines operating in the region. Some of the upswing in bookings stems from capacity reductions by most Latin American airlines, to right-size supply with demand. That capacity discipline should continue in 2017, since all of the region’s major airline groups have worked to defer aircraft deliveries in order to maintain a proper supply-demand balance and lower capex commitments.

Similarly to other Latin American airline groups, Copa has worked to shore up its balance sheet to withstand overall economic weakness in many of its markets. Its cash balances at the end of 2Q2016 increased from the first quarter, and its leverage was the best among some of Latin America’s publicly traded airlines.

Vietnam Airlines readies to enter US market, with Ho Chi Minh-LAX, following A350-900 HGW order


Vietnam Airlines has become the latest Southeast Asian airline to commit to new ultra-long range aircraft enabling the launch of nonstop flights to the continental US. Vietnam Airlines has acquired 10 higher gross weight A350-900s, which are capable of operating nonstop Los Angeles to Ho Chi Minh even in strong headwinds, from 2020.

Vietnam Airlines has been preparing for flights to the US for several years and now finally has committed to acquiring an aircraft capable of launching its preferred US route. Several US routes are possible but Ho Chi Minh-Los Angeles is by far biggest Vietnam-US city pair with over 100,000 annual one-way passengers.

Vietnam Airlines will join Philippine Airlines, Singapore Airlines and United Airlines – and likely Garuda Indonesia and Thai Airways – in operating nonstop flights from Southeast Asia to the continental US. New generation aircraft have opened up new opportunities to operate Southeast Asia-US fights economically but overcoming intense one-stop competition will be a challenge.

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