17 May 2007

Did we call it right? QF Chairwoman to resign

From our May 7th Blog entry:

"The Flying Kangeroo is somewhat therefore in limbo. The senior management find themselves in a quandry because unless APA or either partner makes a bid very soon - then at least the Chairwoman's head must roll."

From todays ATW News"
"....At the same time, Chairman Margaret Jackson, who backed APA's effort, reportedly announced her intention not to seek reelection at November's annual meeting."

Chaps get real here - the deal was dodgy at best and TPG does not have enough bandwidth to go after all of these deals at the same time when there are so many other "worthy" causes closer to home with greater value.

So the Kangeroo continues to fly solo. As it should in our humble opinion.



GDS 3.1 - The model evolves

The news that Southwest is going back into Galileo will probably send shockwaves around the globe. But as the smoke clears we can start to evaluate some of the realities of the situation.

GDS need new content to remain relevant. They face attack from all sides: Falling Yields, bypass, deregulation, consolidation, etc etc. Over the last 5 years according to figures from ASTA, Travel Agents in the USA have lowered their use of GDS from effectively 100% down to just over 80%. This fall is likely to accelerate as the GNEs come online and as the incentive payments dip. At the same time US agents have increasingly started to use Supplier direct websites. That Gordian knot seems to have been broken and the fragmentation trend continues.

At T2 we believe that this is a natural evolution. We believe that the fundamental forces are going to continue to drive diversity in the GDS – definitely we see that there will be less homogenization of the GDS players.

Southwest is interesting at this juncture. You may ask why did they choose Travelport/Galileo now and what was their rationale. We believe that the deal has been in the works for some time. There were some not inconsiderable technical hurdles to overcome but the writing on the wall has been there for quite some time. SHHHHH don’t say anything to anyone but Southwest is beginning to reach Saturation with the current model. For the past 6 months or so – Southwest has been sounding more and more like a network carrier. In reality it is reaching the HVC – Hybrid Value Carrier model we have been predicting for some time. With the true LCC model just about played out for Southwest – there is no where else to go but – well up. Thus they need to expand their distribution and their model. Thus Galileo fits nicely. Why? They are already available in Sabre but Galileo represents a black hole. Thus the opportunity to reach the #2 corporate agency booking system makes perfect sense. Don’t be surprised if the work does not stop here. Look for GNEs to appear soon with that capability. SWABiz has not been a massive success and the efforts behind it seem to have been somewhat half hearted. The final catalyst has probably been two key factors – both competitive in nature. Firstly the US domestic market is already showing signs of weakness. Just last week WN reported having to revisit its projections for 2008. Secondly jetBlue has shown a remarkable uptick in sales as a result of going back into the GDS. WN cannot afford to ignore these facts.

But why not Amadeus? Simple – Amadeus in the USA is a Leisure system- that is well handled by the direct website. However herein lies a message for the other Hybrid Value Carriers. In other markets HVCs are now eyeing the situation of saturation or at least parity with network carriers and looking for ways to be fully competitive. I think the floodgates could open when Easyjet and Air Berlin look back at being in the GDS. But here is some hope for Amadeus North America – since it has none of the “evil” OTAs on its system here – it may just be OK for Southwest. And Worldspan? By the time the system is ready WSP will be owned by Travelport so the issue is somewhat moot – at least commercially.



Airlines - The Ides of September are coming

In the boom to bust cycle of airlines - the tradition has always been buy at the top and sell at the bottom... not exactly what even your local stock broker would tell you was a smart thing. If you are a student of history you know that Airlines are highly cyclical. Yet many forget that in times of boom. But will this cycle be any different?

Many would argue that this is the top of the cycle and we are approaching the peak of the airlines' net earning capability. Barring a catastrophe - of either an economic or socio-political variety, the airlines as a group should be very profitable this year. But the dynamics are very different this time around. Why?At T2Impact we believe that we are headed for a long term fundamental shift in the structure of the airline system.

Here are some pointers to monitor.

1. We are approaching practical capacity constraints in certain key junction points within the system. For example - The US system is already crowded at peak times yet the investment in ATC infrastructure by successive Administrations has been laughable.
2. Barriers to entry are much higher than they have been - witness the number of new airlines starting in the US market has dwindled to a trickle. In Europe there is a surfeit of LCC startups. Even the robust growth markets of GCC and Asia Pacific are not experiencing a growth of new players.
3. The massive savings gained over the last 10 years in labor cost cuts, distribution cost reductions have been offset by massive increases in fuel. Frankly there are no more major cost cutting areas left.
4. Yields are at historical highs.
5. There is going to be significant labor unrest due to the afore-mentioned labor reductions. is it time for payback? AMR's AA pilots think so with an opening round request for 30% pay increases.So what are the airlines doing with the cash?Plowing it into service improvementsStill off-loading unprofitable marginal routes to affiliate partners.Buying new planes.Etc.

What worries us is that there is no fundamental effort to address the core issues. Neither is there a regulatory mechanism for addressing the true scarcity value of the whole trip and the attendant resources consumed.We believe that a future airline sin tax regime will be introduced. If for no other reason than the usual sin tax revenues on cigarettes (for example) are starting to wane.

Our belief is that the Government bodies - both national and pan-national - and the Industry should be working on improving the efficiency of the system. A fair user fee basis of regulatory payments needs to replace the outmoded and clearly now unworkable 1944 Chicago Convention.

Finally - how about a rainy day fund?In the coming months we will explore different ways that the airlines should be responding to the future. With our new partner InTheKno (http://www.inthekno.com/) we will be examining business models for airlines and the impact on the whole of the Travel and Tourism sector. For airlines – the sky is quite sunny at the moment. But we see storm clouds a-coming.

The Domestic USA market growth is slowing and already we are seeing indicators of a softening of traffic in other markets too. Those high fares are beginning to bite. Once we get past September and we see winter sales coming in at low fares – we will see a pull back and competition for the consumer will again emerge. Round about September 15th.

You have been warned!