In the year to June 2014, Qantas, the Australian airline, posted record losses of $2.8 billion. The airline was seen to be in some serious trouble and engaged in various cost-cutting measures. This, together with help from falling oil prices appears to have reversed this company’s fortunes. It posted profits of $557 million in the year to the end of June 2015.
The airline industry was hit by the financial crisis and subsequent worldwide recession. Holidays are a luxury item, such that when incomes are rising, there is a greater demand for travel abroad. Conversely, when incomes fall (as we see in a recession) demand will fall and this can hurt the revenues and profits of airlines such as Qantas. Qantas, in particular, had been struggling with a high degree of competition from other airlines, who are also competing on key long-haul routes, for example Emirates, Etihad and Singapore. Further competition came at home from Virgin Australia, who had significant backing from other large airlines and Qantas found itself unable to compete with such low prices and restrictions on foreign ownership.
However, with significant layoffs, cancelling some unprofitable routes and various other cost-cutting measures, Qantas will return $505 million of profits to its shareholders and will purchase 8 Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners. This will certainly boost confidence in the company and its Chief Executive, Alan Joyce’s comments may well add to this. He said:
“We are halfway through the biggest and fastest transformation in our history … Without that transformation, we would not be reporting this strong profit, recommencing shareholder returns, or announcing our ultra-efficient Dreamliner fleet for Qantas International.”
Although the investment in so many new planes is a large outlay, it is expected that they will improve the efficiency of its fleet, reducing its fuel bill significantly, especially over its longest routes. As these profit figures only represent a job that is half done, it will be interesting to see how Qantas fares with the recovery of the global economy.
Qantas to buy eight Boeing dreamliners after posting profit of $557m The Guardian (20/8/15)
Qantas returns to full-year profit and pledges new growth phase BBC News (20/8/15)
Qantas soars past overhaul to return to profit Wall Street Journal, Rebecca Thurlow (20/8/15)
Qantas injects another $55 million into Jetstar Japan Sydney Morning Herald, Jamie Freed (24/8/15)
Is Qantas set to keep on soaring? Sydney Morning Herald, John Collett (21/8/15)
Qantas to expand fleet after rapid profit turnaround Reuters (20/8/15)
Qantas turnaround gains altitude with swing to profit Financial Times, Jamie Smyth (20/8/15)
- Into which market structure would you place the airlines industry?
- Consider the different strategies that were adopted by Qantas and in each case, explain whether it would have had an impact on the firm’s costs or revenues.
- Why was Virgin Australia proving to be such fierce competition for Qantas?
- The Wall Street Journal Article refers to Qantas finding it difficult ‘to attract a White Knight’. What is meant by a White Knight?
- What has been the impact of falling global oil prices on the airline industry? Use a diagram to explain your answer.
No matter the product or service, price is always a key factor and never more so than in tough economic times. In most cases, prices are allowed to be determined by the forces of demand and supply, which gives the equilibrium price. However, in some cases, the government may choose to intervene with a price control, for example rent controls and the national minimum wage. Another market where there is also regulation is the airline industry and the Civil Aviation Authority have recently been criticized by Heathrow Airport for its price control plan.
Whenever we go on holiday, the price we pay for an airline ticket will depend in part on the airport we are taking off from and landing at, as they will charge the airline for landing fees, security, terminals etc. Heathrow airport had proposed that annual rises to its tariffs charged to airlines would increase by 4.6% above RPI inflation. However, this plan has been rejected by the CAA, which has said that the annual tariff rise between 2014 and 2018 should not be above the RPI. Though Heathrow are criticizing the CAA about this restriction, it is an improvement from the initial proposal which would have capped price rises at the RPI minus 1.3%.
Controversy has naturally been created, with the CAA arguing that such price controls are needed to keep prices down and thus benefit consumers and retain the competitiveness of Heathrow airport. But, in contrast, Heathrow has argued that such a cap will put its competitive position under pressure and will risk future investment in the UK. But this isn’t the only criticism of the CAA. Airlines aren’t happy with the ruling either, arguing that the CAA has bowed to the pressure of Heathrow. The contrasting positions of the CAA, Heathrow and airlines are evident in the following quotes, firstly from the Chairwoman of the CAA:
The proposals will put an end to over a decade of prices rising faster than inflation at Heathrow. Tackling the upward drift in Heathrow’s prices is essential to safeguard its globally competitive position. The challenge for Heathrow is to maintain high levels of customer service while reducing costs. We are confident this is possible and that our proposals create a positive climate for further capital investment, in the passenger interest.
Secondly, from Heathrow’s Chief Executive:
This proposal is the toughest Heathrow has ever faced. The CAA’s settlement could have serious and far-reaching consequences for passengers and airlines at Heathrow … We want to continue to improve Heathrow for passengers. Instead, the CAA’s proposals risk not only Heathrow’s competitive position but the attractiveness of the UK as a centre for international investment. We will now carefully consider our investment plans before responding fully to the CAA.
And finally from the IAG Chief Executive, who said:
[The CAA] neglected its new primary statutory duty to further the interests of passengers by endorsing a settlement that allows the UK’s monopoly hub to ignore its inefficiencies and over-reward investors by imposing excessive charges … It is a bad day for customers who have been let down by the CAA.
Any price rise from the airports will be passed on to airlines and these in turn will translate into higher prices for customers. However, is there any truth to Heathrow’s claims that investment will be adversely impacted? As costs rise, profit margins and profit will fall, unless the revenue generated can increase. Price controls restrict the amount that prices can rise and thus unless demand increases by a significant margin, profits will decline. With lower profits, there will be less money for investment and arguably the service that customers face will also decline. However, the CAA suggests that Heathrow will be able to cut its costs and thus protect investment into the future, while retaining its competitive position globally by charging lower prices to airlines. This is unlikely to be the end of the journey, but for the moment, the CAA appears to have put its foot down. The following articles consider the battleground between the CAA and Heathrow.
Regulation in the passenger’s interest, support investment and driving competition The Civil Aviation Authority (3/10/13)
Passengers at Heathrow ‘face £1bn fares hike’ Independent, Matthew Beard (4/10/13)
Heathrow airport attacks regulator’s price control plan BBC News (3/10/13)
CAA proposed Heathrow charges rise in line with inflation The Telegraph, Rebecca Clancy (13/10/13)
Passengers face fare increases as Heathrow and Gatwick are allowed to up landing fees Mail Online (3/10/13)
Heathrow and airlines enraged by CAA price proposals The Telegraph, Alistair Osborne (3/10/13)
Heathrow attacks Civil Aviation Authority over airport charges Financial Times, Andrew Parker (3/10/13)
BAA considers life outside Heathrow as CAA backtracks on charges The Guardian, Gwyn Topham (3/10/13)
Heathrow charge plan disappoints all round Wall Street Journal, Peter Evans (3/10/13)
- What is the role of a regulator?
- Explain how the price control outlined by the CAA will affect Heathrow.
- If Heathrow is unable to cut costs, what is the likely effect? Using a diagram illustrate the impact on profitability if costs (a) can be reduced and (b) cannot be reduced.
- Why are the CAA being criticised by airlines and airports?
- How will customers be affected by Heathrow’s planned price rises and the CAA’s proposal?
- ‘Regulation in the airlines industry is essential to retain competitiveness.’ Evaluate the validity of this statement.
As noted in the posting about the new high-speed rail link (High-speed rail link is on track), transport issues in the UK are always newsworthy topics and here we go again. This time, though, we look to the sky, where air traffic was halted for five days, from April 14th to 19th. Whilst some flights took off on the morning of the 20th April, further volcanic clouds were expected to ground flights at 7pm. Then, with new scientific evidence suggesting that it would be safe to ease restrictions, flights resumed on 21st April.
A big problem during this period was the uncertainty about how long the disruption might last. And even with the easing of restrictions, there was no certainty that dangerous levels of ash might not return if there was a new bout of activity from the volcano and if winds were unfavourable. One thing that was certain is that it would cost the British and other European economies at a time when they can hardly afford it.
The airline industry is already expected to lose £1.4bn this year and the volcanic cloud is estimated to have cost airlines approximately £130 million per day in lost revenues. The tourism industry has also suffered, although the losses are significantly lower. Countries, such as Kenya, that rely heavily on air freight to transport goods have suffered and businesses have also lost out, owing to cancelled meetings, delays to mail and stranded staff. Customers were angry that they might face extra charges to rebook flights and were having to pay for further accommodation. Whilst the direct effects on economic growth were thought to be only minimal, the long-term effects are uncertain. A drop of between 1% and 2% for European GDP was being suggested.
Airlines have been asking for compensation, in particular BA. After a tumultuous time with strikes, such a disruption could not have come at a worse time. BA has estimated costs of between £15m and £20m per day, due to lost passenger and freight revenues, as well as the need to support passengers trapped abroad.
However, the news was not all bad, especially if you are a rail operator or own a shipping company, as other means of transport have seen a huge rise in demand. Many stranded passengers have railed against the ‘profiteering’ of rail, coach and car-hire companies as prices soared. A case of supply and demand?
Iceland volcano cloud: the economic impact BBC News (19/4/10)
BA seeks compensation for volcano losses Telegraph (19/4/10)
Tourists and economy trapped by the volcano eruption in Iceland Balkans Business News (19/4/10)
Iceland volcano: the impact of the ash cloud on Britain Guardian, James Meikle (18/4/10)
Volcano’s ash cloud causes sporting chaos BBC News (20/4/10)
Travel companies lose millions of pounds with UK tourism next to suffer Independent, Alistair Dawber (20/4/10)
Volcanic ash costing airline £130m a day Channel 4 News (19/4/10)
BA demands government compensation as airlines watch reserves go up in smoke Independent (20/4/10)
British Airway seeks compensation for air chaos (including video) BBC News (19/4/10)
How long will chaos last – and what has it cost? Independent (19/4/10)
Europe counting economic cost of volcano CNBC, Patrick Allen (18/4/10)
How could Europe volcano cloud crisis play out? Reuters, Peter Apps (19/4/10)
- Who are the main losers from the volcanic ash cloud? Think about businesses and individuals.
- How can other means of transport, such as rail, be seen as a complement and a substitute to air travel?
- How can the economic impact of such disruption be estimated? Can you apply a cost–benefit analysis to this situation?
- Airlines are losing revenue and hence profits. Try illustrating this on a diagram.
- Should the airlines be compensated? If so, how would you propose compensating them? Are there any problems with your proposal?
- If one airline is the sole provider of flights between two locations, does it have a natural monopoly? Explain your answer.
- What is the impact on UK exports and imports? How might the exchange rate be affected?
- Does anyone gain from the volcanic ash cloud? Explain your answer.