Welcome to the New Year – Part 2

Next up:  World Alliances

There is never that much revolutionary change in alliances.  Last year, there was a fight over JAL between Oneworld and SkyTeam and Oneworld won but they really were destined to.  It made sense for JAL.  The alliances worked a bit to get better access to areas they were deficient in and to a large degree, they were successful.  I don’t expect much change, if any at all, this year.

The Middle East:

Emirates did what Emirates does:  it ordered more aircraft.  I did what I do:  failed to see how they’ll use all those A380s and 777s.  The financial scene in the Middle East and, in particular, the UAE continues to be weakish and while I suspect it will recover somewhat this year, I think the area no longer carries that gleam it once did.  I don’t see any failures in the near future but I don’t see any airlines really blooming either.  Success there is, as is true for most businesses there, fairly dependent upon oil prices.

India:

Nothing astonishing happened there but it was already pretty mucked up.  It remains mucked up and will likely stay mucked up this year.

The Far East:

China did kind of force their airlines into agreeing to buy Chinese aircraft as I predicted.  In fact, Chinese aviation is suddenly acting very Chinese in that it is being required to toe a more obedient line.  Face is everything there and I don’t like it when airline businesses are operating on the basis of “face” rather than good decisions.  It’s notable that in the launch orders for the COMAC C919 aircraft, each airline took up just 5 aircraft orders each.  They don’t want that airliner any more than anyone else.

JAL has done OK for the year.  They’ve made progress with their finances and they did make some hard choices.   They did have to file for bankruptcy protection and no one should have been surprised about that.  The new CEO, Kazuo Inamori, and President, Masaru Onishi, are succeeding and making hard choices.  Frankly, more so than is characteristic of a Japanese company and they deserve credit and support.  This airline isn’t fixed yet but it is on its way.

Oceania:

QANTAS got hit pretty bad by the Rolls Royce failure on its A380.  United Airlines is still on the US-Australia routes but badly needs to upgrade its product and it doesn’t appear positioned very well to do so.  Perhaps Jeff Smisek & Company will address that better this year.  Delta and V Australia didn’t get to form an alliance and they’re trying again.  Someone has to give in this area and it will be either in the form of a codeshare alliance between Delta and V Australia or in the form of an airline withdrawing from the market (United or V Australia).

South America:

LAN, in fact, did continue to succeed in South America.  So much so, they bought TAM to create LATAM and then bought AIRES (a Colombian airline)covering both the east and west coasts of South America.  LAN is, in my opinion, now a SuperLegacy of South America and that’s a bit dangerous for them.  South American governments are more protective of their countries airlines that is the custom in other parts of the world.  

Curiously, LATAM is now operating airlines in two different alliances:  Oneworld and Star Alliance.  While there is speculation that they’ll continue this with LAN brands in Oneworld and TAM brands in Star, I think they’ll have to pick one and this may well mean a big battle among all three alliances.   This is an area where SkyTeam could do well for itself by gearing up for battle now.

Aerolineas Argentinas:  Well, what can I say?   Well, I’ll say exactly the same I did last year. 

This disaster is much like the country itself.  It won’t go away but it won’t perform either.  No outside airline will consider taking it over after what happened with Grupo Marsans’ ownership.   They lack an appropriate fleet for their flying, a strategic plan for stabilizing their revenues and no clear plan for future growth.  But the Argentinian government also won’t let them go away.  It is a matter of national pride.

LAN Argentina is growing in Argentina but somehow I remain skeptical that it will be allowed to succeed too well.  Why?  For one reason, the government of Argentina owns Aerolineas Argentinas and it has a vested interest in that airline earning money.  For another reason, LAN Argentina is owned by the LAN Group of Chile.  Look up how Chileans and Argentinians feel about each other.

Colombia / Central America: 

Avianca TACA is doing fine and I look forward to seeing how they’ll compete against LAN. 

Venezuela:  Bah!

Europe:

British Airways accomplished a few things.  They got into a royal battle with their flight crew that remains unresolved today in part by being petty.  Their flight crew union, Unite, furthered that argument by being petty.  BA did get their merger with Iberia accomplished and after many, many years they have their anti-trust agreement for trans-Atlantic flights between its European Oneworld partners.

Look for the BA/IB union to do OK in its first year and they may even start looking for another partner as soon as possible.  The anti-trust agreement between Oneworld partners should also add to the bottom line.  However, it’s time to settle this fight with Unite and it’s time for Unite to get real.

Lufthansa is moving along and did do something with their BMI purchase.  I don’t think it did them any good when its CEO, Wolfgang Mayrhuber, started complaining about its ability to compete with the likes of Emirates.  Whether or not he had a real point (and he probably did), it also did signal just how hard a job they’re having with the task of competing with the Middle Eastern airlines.

They also still have their A340s and their plans to add the 747-8i.  They got their first A380 and all I see is fat, fuel consuming airplanes.  This is going to be a problem for them if oil prices rise much more and when you consider that much of their competition is flying fuel efficient A330s and 777s, it makes you wonder about their long term strategy.

KLM/Air France:  More of the same.  I think this airline will need to make an order for new widebody aircraft soon.  Because it remains, essentially, a French airline, I see a large order for A350s and a small order for 777s.  I do not see the 787 in Air France’s future.

Airlines will earn profits and even earn great profits throughout the world.  Many will be “record breaking” but as much from inflation as a recovery.  Those profits will soon start to burn a hole in someone pocket and that is when I think we see capacity growth.  I think that capacity growth will start with the Middle East airlines pursuing more revenue lucrative traffic from Europe and North America.  But we’ll see it happen in the United States, too. 

I would dearly like to see the 787 enter into service with someone and I think we will see it do so.  But Boeing has got to get a rein on itself.  The failures in the 787 program are as much about poor management as they are about stretching technology.  There is too much accountancy going on there and not enough visionary leading.  It’s time for them to start winning and they could do so by winning the KC-X tanker program once and for all.  But it is also time to start talking about what’s next. 

The demands of the 787 program *will* decrease as will the demands from the 747-8 program.  Will it be talk of a 737 replacement or an improvement to the 777?  I think the airlines would like to talk about the 737 replacement and that seems sensible.  Rather than play cautiously, reach again, I say.  Push engine manufacturers to come up with something to raise the game and push technologies again.   It’s also time to talk about the 787-10 and I think there are more than a few airlines who would like to be a part of those discussions.

Airbus is going to muddle along denying any real problems with the A350 until the end of this year.  Then we’ll hear about something delaying the entry into service date by a considerable amount.  John Leahy will insult Boeing and claim the A350 will put the 787 to death but it won’t.   Airbus might well buy the KC-X tanker program but I question the wisdom of this in light of their ongoing A380/A400/A350 problems as well as their announcement development of a new engine option for the A320 series.  When do they earn money the proper business way?

It would be nice to see Embraer make a move into the 130 seat market and I think those guys could do it very well.  Bombardier gets bashed by everyone but I still think they have something with their CS series and I think it will be taken up by another airline soon.

I think we’re going to see another round of fees.  Just as soon as airlines can identify what other parts of their service they can de-couple from the basic flight.  I think we’re going to see airlines put a price on early boarding and we’ll probably see fuel surcharges amounting to tens of dollars.

But let’s hope we see an interesting and prosperous year in the airline industry.

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