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Austrian Airlines is the national airline of Austria and is based at Vienna International Airport. Along with its charter arm, Lauda Air, the carrier operates both domestic and international networks, particularly to Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Austrian's regional carrier, Tyrolean Airways, merged with Austrian on 01-Apr-2015.
Location of Austrian Airlines main hub (Vienna International Airport)
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The Lufthansa Group is taking measures across its three full service brands to recalibrate in East Asia, its second largest long haul market by ASKs after North America - and with the highest growth potential. Hong Kong has been the group's de facto hub, historically, despite the lack of a Star Alliance partner. JVs are forming with Star partners Singapore Airlines and Air China, and the Hong Kong hub will diminish in importance. This will take time: JVs with Singapore Airlines and Air China are evolving slowly, with the Asian party being conservative compared with the more experienced Lufthansa.
The JVs will enable the Lufthansa Group to fill white spots (Malaysia, Indonesia) and improve offline connections; Australia is the group's largest offline market. Many of these opportunities are markets where Gulf airlines have already dominated the market. Lufthansa has an existing JV with ANA: 17% of East Asian seats are covered under a JV. After the Air China and SIA JVs come into force this figure will rise to 64% – still less than JV coverage in North America.
The Lufthansa Group narrowed its operating loss in the seasonally weak 1Q2016, in spite of a fall in revenue. A weak pricing environment was more than offset by a reduction in unit costs. This was principally thanks to lower fuel costs, but there was also a welcome fall in underlying ex fuel CASK at constant currency.
However, although Lufthansa Passenger reported higher profits than in 1Q2015, there was a decline for SWISS, Eurowings, Cargo, MRO and Catering. For LCC Eurowings, this was partly due to start-up costs in long haul and at Vienna, but it also reflected strong LCC competition in Germany. Lufthansa is still considering whether to add Brussels Airlines to its Eurowings operation. Austrian only improved its result because of a one-off gain and, moreover, it seems that the improvement in operating profit at the Group level compared with 1Q2015 was due to one-off items.
Lufthansa still expects to post a slightly higher adjusted EBIT result in 2016 than in 2015. Nevertheless, its 1Q2016 report demonstrates that, for all its restructuring progress, it is not achieving results that are consistent with the broader cyclically high margins of the global airline industry. Further CASK reduction remains the focus.
With its well-developed market economy, skilled labour force, and high standard of living, Austria is closely tied to other EU economies, especially Germany’s. The City of Vienna is one of Europe’s richest, and sitting as it does on the border of Eastern and Western Europe it has been able to benefit from trade between the two for many years. Its airport continues to do so today.
Only a decade ago it was underachieving for a wealthy capital city airport with high hub potential. But there have been considerable investments made in the infrastructure – which continue – and in addition Austrian Airlines has been absorbed into the Lufthansa Group, which has ultimately benefitted the airport. The airport now handles 22 million ppa, but growth rates recently have been low.
This report examines Vienna International Airport by way of several sets of metrics, looks at the airports that are rivals to it, at its construction activities and its changing ownership.
In 2015 the Lufthansa Group had its most profitable year since 2007, before the global financial crisis. Its profit recovery from the crisis has been cautious, but its increased confidence is now signalled with the restoration of dividend payments to shareholders, proposed at EUR0.50 per share.
Compared with its pre-crisis incarnation, one of the biggest changes in the Lufthansa Group is the establishment and growth of a low cost subsidiary with a clear strategic role. First under the Germanwings brand and now under Eurowings, the group's LCC is increasingly assuming point-to-point flying from the hub airlines on both short/medium haul routes and launching new long haul leisure routes. In 2015 it even made a small profit.
However, labour productivity in the mainline Lufthansa operation remains an impediment to the group's ability to join the leaders of European legacy airlines, in terms of profitability. Eurowings has greater labour flexibility and lower unit costs and has also become important to management as a way to show mainline labour representatives a glimpse of an alternative future. As competitor LCCs grow in Germany both management and unions must seize this future.
In the world's most premium air market, London Heathrow, Gulf airlines are increasing their presence. Emirates has obtained a sixth daily slot, the first time in a decade that it will grow above five daily flights at Heathrow (it has meanwhile been growing at Gatwick). Qatar Airways has offered six flights since May-2014 but on smaller aircraft, while Turkish Airlines will have six daily flights on three days a week from Mar-2016. Etihad has not grown slots since last decade but has increased capacity by deploying A380s. Emirates will have an all-A380 operation at Heathrow in Jun-2016.
Oman Air bills itself as a boutique airline focused on Oman, but with a high share of connecting traffic and ambitious growth plans, Oman Air is becoming a Gulf network airline. It paid USD75 million – reportedly a record – for a morning slot at Heathrow in order to have twice daily service. Beside the growth, the Big 3 Gulf airlines hold 2% of international Heathrow slots but account for 5% of seat capacity (more than local airline Virgin Atlantic). Including Oman Air and Turkish they hold 3.5% of slots. London Heathrow is a premium focus of attention but Gulf airlines are growing faster elsewhere in Europe as they diversify their networks away from London and the UK. In 2006, one in two of Emirates' Western European seats went to the UK, but in 2016 only 30% will.
Austrian Airlines: Lufthansa Group's poor relation may have improved revenue & profit growth in 2015
In 2015, Austrian Airlines' passenger numbers fell for the third successive year, to the same level as in 2006. Its ASKs fell during the global financial crisis and have changed little since. Revenue looks likely to have grown in 2015, but is also well below its pre-crisis levels. With only three years of positive operating profit in the decade, Austrian has consistently been the least profitable Lufthansa Group airline.
One of Austrian's big challenges has been to hold on to unit revenue increases when they have occurred. Moreover, its cost base is among the highest in Europe for an airline with its relatively short average trip length. Its short/medium haul focus brings significant competition with LCCs, whose share of the Austrian market has grown over the past decade.
Austrian can take some heart from an improved profit margin in 9M2015, which should presage a stronger FY2015 result (to be published by Lufthansa on 17-Mar-2016). In addition, the Group has established a base for its growing LCC Eurowings at Austrian's hub in Vienna, the no-frills subsidiary's only base outside Germany.