26 September 2008

So its all over bar the shouting.... New Delta

Given the lame duck status of most of the Congress, the Administration and the current focus on other things - the FAA, the European Commission and the shareholders/boards of both airlines have all agreed that there is no stopping this monster merger.

Lost in this - perhaps - is the impact on the consumer and the industry itself. It is unlikely that there is any appetite to object. We cannot forget that implicit in the merger is market power and a raising of airfares by New Delta. The process of rationalization will result in some (shocking) uncovering by New Delta that the extent of the cuts necessary to make the merger work will exceed the case the original players put forward.

The follow on will be a new dance of potential mergers but this wont start to happen until at least the first half of 2009 when the new US Administration is in place.

If we believe Boeing and that oil will return to $80 a barrel - then the remaining US carriers will be well positioned to ride out the recession. However if oil stays north of $100 and/or the recession bites deeper next year than anyone else sees - then we are going to see an "urge to merge" occurring sooner.


Why I love Fridays - The BA vs Virgin fight

Gotta Love Fridays. People put out such wonderful stuff for us all to read over the weekend.

Virgin's Branson today responded to Willie's 6 Questions. The questions and the responses deserve a good reading, so for your reading pleasure I republish them here.

Happy Reading and have a good weekend


Virgin Atlantic sent yesterday a letter for publication to BA's in-house newsletter, BA News, after its Chief Executive (Walsh) posed six questions to Virgin Atlantic's Sir Richard Branson about the planned alliance between BA and AA.

Virgin Atlantic is publishing the answers in full from Sir Richard so that BA staff and the public can see the true facts and the damage that such a monster monopoly between BA and AA would do.

1. Why is it fair for Lufthansa and Air France/KLM to have anti-trust immunity (ATI) with their US alliance partners but not British Airways?

The truth is that the Star and SkyTeam alliances, from their own hubs, cannot match the capacity to the US that BA already has from Heathrow, even before any tie-up with AA. In July, from Heathrow to the US, BA flew 11% more Available Seat Kilometres (ASKs) than Star from Frankfurt and 14% more than SkyTeam from Paris Charles De Gaulle. BA/AA immunity would increase their ASKs at Heathrow sharply. Crucially, BA is already bigger than Star and SkyTeam at Heathrow. Anyway, it's not a question of what's fair for an airline but what's fair for consumers.

(Comment from the Professor - to see the numbers please go to: http://t2impact.blogspot.com/2008/08/baaabis-argument-for-immunity-at-lhr.html ).

2. What is there to stop Virgin Atlantic seeking an alliance partner and applying for ATI itself?

Virgin Atlantic may wish to enter into an alliance and may one day seek anti-trust immunity where such an alliance and immunity would lead to consumer benefit. We are not saying that all alliances are bad and no doubt the regulators would scrutinise such an alliance in the same way as we are asking them to scrutinise BA/AA. But any Virgin Atlantic alliance would be a world away from seeking anti-trust immunity with the biggest airline in the world, AA. It doesn't matter what we do as we could never replicate the scale of BA/AA's dominance at Heathrow which would reduce competition on transatlantic, European and domestic routes.

3. If BA and American Airlines used their alliance to put up fares and reduce service levels, as Virgin alleges, surely this would give Virgin a huge competitive opportunity?

The stranglehold that BA/AA would have over travel agents and corporate customers, let alone over nearly half of all slots at Heathrow, would be used in an attempt to destroy its competitors. Any ability to respond would also be restricted due to the power of BA/AA's dominant shorthaul network which can channel passengers onto its own transatlantic flights, therefore diverting feed passengers away from other carriers.

4. If BA/AA is approved, there will still be seven EU or US airlines flying to America from Heathrow - and nothing to stop others starting. This is far more than from any other European airport. Why is it uncompetitive?

The seven EU and US airlines flying to the US from Heathrow offer limited services to only a few destinations. A price tag of £30m for decent slot pairs is a huge barrier to any airline looking to start a profitable service at the airport. There are actually only two new competitors that have entered routes where BA and AA overlap. In one case, this has been negated by a withdrawal and in the other it is simply one daily flight to LA. On all routes between Heathrow and the US, the removal of AA as a result of BA/AA immunity would severely reduce consumer choice.

5. BA/AA’s market share on transatlantic routes from Heathrow (51%) is much smaller than Lufthansa/Star alliance from Frankfurt (80%) or the Air France/SkyTeam alliance from Paris (73%) Why would the competition authorities regard BA/AA’s position as unfair?

Heathrow is absolutely at the heart of this debate as nearly a quarter of all passengers between the EU and the US go through Heathrow, more than travel from Frankfurt or Charles de Gaulle. Misleadingly, BA has been using data which hides the 6 million passengers who book direct or transfer onto transatlantic flights. This allows BA to claim a smaller share of passengers than the more accurate onboard picture shows. Transfer passengers are a vital part of an airline's route profitability. As for direct bookings, under what logic would you leave out all those passengers who book direct through BA and AA's call centres! Or websites! Or at airport ticket desks!

6. Why does Virgin have a ‘monster monopoly’ on fast train services between

London and Manchester - and why does it want to create another one running

Gatwick Airport?

Virgin Trains competes against BA, bmi, some other train operators and millions of vehicles between London and Manchester, so it certainly doesn't have a monopoly. In fact, BA had an almost dominant share of business travellers until Virgin introduced new trains and now BA's monopoly is dwindling fast. Transatlantic passengers are more limited in their choice as they can't drive or take a train, or even swim, and will be more limited if BA/AA immunity was granted. At Gatwick, Virgin Atlantic wouldn't have a monopoly as it doesn't want to own the airport outright but hold a small stake with partners, in order to improve the quality of customer service, something which BA should be interested in too.

O'Leary Slams Regulator; Demands Boss's Resignation, The Professor Says Breakup.

Normally most of us have reactions ranging from a wry smile or a smirk to a rearranging of the clothing when we read or hear something from the flamboyant CEO of Ryanair.

Today's outburst is aimed at Dr Harry Bush the head of the UK Aviation Regulator the CAA.

The somewhat abrupt U-Turn by Dr Bush on the privatization of BAA plc is the issue. Earlier this week the CAA came out publicly in support of the breakup of BAA. And here MOL has a good point. For the past 20 years the CAA has rubber stamped what ever BAA wanted. While the charges, to those who follow Ryanair vs Dublin Airport (in all its guises), may sound remarkably similar - MOL does indeed have a solid case that the CAA as regulator has been somewhat asleep at the wheel while London's airports have deteriorated in service and capability over the last 20 years.

Veteran readers of this blog will recall the Professor's rants about the state of BAA and its service offerings over the last 3 years. Terminal 2 is a disgrace and now thankfully will be put out of its misery. Terminal 1 is finally starting to get some attention and Terminal 4 well the best description I can give it is downright grungy. T5 while a distinct improvement still has some fundamental flaws in its design and the quality of the workmanship was just appalling.

Compared to the simplicity of design of other new terminals for high volume airports elsewhere in the world - the CAA supervised BAA designs have been a major disappointment.

It seems that only now the regulator has woken up to the fact that there may be a problem.

So I will go one better than MOL and demand that the CAA be broken up into at least 2 possibly separate entities.

Airport/Airways infrastructure should be handled by a single entity. This is distinct function. Aircraft licensing and everything thing to do with registrations - should be kept or even placed into another.

Finally the bonding issue is not something that the regulator should be involved in. Make a decision and move on. This can be handled by a commercially mandated company. In the same way that the slot committee (Airport Coordination Ltd) is run.



25 September 2008

So who will be paying for the bailouts?

I really hope we have a way to fund the bailout of the financial institution. $700 BILLION is a very large number. But even a small number of tax avoidance should be addressed.

Seems like someone else agrees with me... here is a blog that quotes the Professor..


Do you agree? let me know what you think


I want what Boeing is smoking....

Randy Tinseth - normally a sane and rational guy - and one of Boeing's ace salesman if not THE guy - made a comment in Sydney yesterday that really needs a degree of scrutiny. He said that Boeing expects oil to stabilize at $70-$80 per barrel (in 2008 dollars) over the next 20 years adding that the company's forecasts have proven to be "quite accurate" this decade.

OK - that sounds very fluffy. However I really have to say I dont think so. In 2008 dollars - I think he is off at least 20 points. But there is an interesting corollary to his statement.

At this price the economics of older generation Stage 2+ jets stays pretty active. MD80s (according to one analyst's numbers) become price prohibitive at about $107 pb in 2008 dollars. (Actually 2007). So that means that MD80s and 737 classics (300/400/500) can be quite an attractive proposition if oil does keep to his numbers. The 20 year average however gives him a LOT of wiggle room.

So for a new "'plane" salesman to make this kind of statement makes me wonder if he was smoking something. Those nice parking spots in the US Southwest start to look very attractive as a place to get bargains.

It makes companies like Allegiant look really good.



24 September 2008

Pantheon - A Panoply of Protests

The Greek government's plan to privatize Olympic is running into a little opposition and protest. Indeed almost all the unions are not happy that the airline will downsize by about 40% in terms of head count.

Despite "an only in Greece solution" that takes the best of Varig's bad bankruptcy solution and a smattering of the Alitalia bail out (now almost dead) which offered state jobs to half the cut workers and very nice redundancy payments to others, the staff are not happy.

"Olympic Airlines is a national matter, it is the flag of the Greeks in the skies, and we will never, as simple workers and citizens, accept that this company stops flying," said Manolis Patetsos, head of the Civil Aviation Trade Union Federation, who was part of the protest.

I think that states exactly the problem.

23 September 2008

The State of Airfares - Confusion Reigns Supreme

Air Travel is supposed to be one of the purest forms of market that exists anywhere. As such it should be driven by supply and demand - rising and falling accordingly.

Currently the fall in demand is acute - the fall in capacity has been even greater but so far we are not seeing corresponding rises in yield across the board.

We have therefore a number of factors. On the demand side clearly demand is falling - we believe that corporate/business demand is falling more rapidly. Willie Walsh has said that premium traffic is falling for BA faster than it expected. The meltdown in the US markets and the spreading virus has curtailed demand in many areas of high yielding business traffic. Those Wall Street and City types really like to travel in the front cabin. Well that business is WAY off. Generally the economy is falling so travel is being curtailed. I have always maintained that the amount of VFR traffic (Visiting Friends and Relatives) is far less discretionary than other forms. It also makes up a sizable portion of the US market and is not reported separately (unlike Europe and Asia/Pac where it is a recognized traveling segment.

Capacity domestically in the US market has been slashed but not enough. Capacity has been switched to International sectors which in turn has boosted capacity into a weak market particularly UK-USA as a result of Open Skies. One point of Domestic capacity shifted results in 8+ points if international capacity increase. As a result we are seeing drops in key markets. Topaz who tracks this sort of thing reports spot market yields off - such as Paris NYC. London-NYC etc.

Finally the impact of fees or ancillary revenue charges - inconsistent application of taxes (lets call this obfuscation) has resulted confusion on the part of the consumer who is not happy. Resulting in moving to more direct access.

We foresee a significant amount of price volatility for the next few months with increased "fire" sales and last minute revenue generating events. Peak travel times will actually see an increase in rates but off peak will plummet in pricing.

All in all - a very confused situation before Christmas. After the turn of the year - we will see a significant amount of breath holding and lack of forward commitment in advance bookings. This will take many months to sort itself out before easy and clear patterns emerge. Rest assured on the supply and intermediary side we are all in for a bit of a wild ride.


South Africa - a Small market? Think Again!

The potential for Low Cost Carriers to reform a market remains one of the bright spots in these dark days. As if to prove it, Kulula in South Africa held a "garage sale" and in one day sold 55,000 tickets. That works out to about 350 Boeing 737s worth of tickets IN 18 HOURS.... that's about 1 Ticket a second.

So more power to Gidon and the lads for this one. If they can do it (remember this is a 62 YEAR OLD Company) then shame on anyone else who says they cannot.


22 September 2008

Could This Be Boris' White Elephant ? I Hope Not.

In the 1960s and 1970s there were many conversations about developing a so called London's 3rd Airport. Ultimately Stansted was developed at a time when in fact there were 3 already (they kinda forgot about Luton). The controversy over developing LHR (a 3rd Runway) or LGW (a second Runway) has raged long and hard. In reality it will probably be another 10 years or so before we get any form of change.

The proposal for LHR's 3rd runway has been floated for many years but recently received some added attention. Now of course it may be too late. Demolishing homes is not a politically smart thing to do. Even if a 3rd runway is added - the layout of LHR would be hard pressed to deal with a true 50% increase in traffic potential. What to do?

Boris Johnson, the erudite new Mayor of London, wants to look at a different alternative altogether. His idea is to revive the Maplin Sands/Foulness idea. In 1969 the then Wilson government proposed several sites but only one was a coastal site. I remember well the protest from the local people where my family lived to make sure it didn't come to Nuthampsted. The Roskill Commission was charged with evaluating it. Voila end result was Stansted started its development 20 years later.

Boris wants to build a 4 runways on the water where it is only 10 feet deep with landfill, expanding it to 6 runways if necessary later. His idea merits a lot of attention.

Let's start with the fact there is no good answer to the problem. London needs an decent airport. The current "third world" edifice that is LHR is a disgrace and just plain bad in terms of how an airport should be. The impact of the environment is actually worse keeping it. The lack of planning by successive UK Governments has now come back to haunt the current administration (if Gordon Brown survives). A Conservative Majority at the next election could easily be given a mandate for change. This is one of those key changes that is required.

So there is no point in arguing about it. Developing the site and delivering it would take about 6 years AFTER final approval. Since in the UK that will take at LEAST 4 years - I believe that this should start now and in earnest.

The economic and environmental benefits far outweigh all the negatives. Imagine if you will an airport powered in a large part by low cost wave energy in a location that reduces its environmental impact. The Southeast of England would have new land available for development on the old LHR site. it would open up a corridor to the east of London and benefit the country as a whole.

And your problem with this is what?

21 September 2008

You can no longer Jabber freely

I love working with the tools that chaps in garages or bedrooms have worked on which are simple and elegant solutions to pressing needs. That said I am not a huge fan of the long tail model. The assumption that we can all make money in the 1-2% forgets one thing. We still have to compete with the scarce resources of time and total cash.

Jabber was one such tool. Simple easy elegant and free. Or pay for a site license and you can install it yourself. Simple - elegant - independent - private messaging. Well scratch the middle word from that list. Cisco bought them. So far Cisco has ended up buying many of the applications that I used to use. Webex (who in turn had already bought Intranets), Linksys (the ubiquitous company for SOHO networking) etc etc, now they have acquired Jabber.

So staying one step ahead of these big boys and keeping independent is getting harder. There are several tools for web demos. Actually there are few that I like but I keep looking. I love 37Signals (thanks to Professor Hrush for introducing me to that one). So I will probably stick with using Skype as my preferred "presence"
provider. It has become the indispensable tool for our business and personal multi channel communication services. I keep a single machine where I dont load MS stuff - using Open Office etc. Every now and then I go and play with it to see if it can compete with the Office Juggernaut. It doesn't but for others who just need simple stuff this is not bad. (Shhh dont tell anyone but I also have a MAC)