One of the contributing factors towards high inflation in the UK is high and rising oil prices – most of us have seen the effects of this with high prices at petrol stations. However, there are many other areas where high oil prices have had knock on effects and one particular effect is the costs to airlines. As a result, passengers will see a higher price. British Airways will be increasing its fuel surcharge on long-haul flights. The surcharge for economy seats is likely to increase by £10 per flight and for premium seats is to increase by £20 per flight. Nick Swift, BA’s chief financial officer said:
‘As customers will know form the price at petrol pumps, the cost of fuel has continued to rise significantly over the past three months. For us, fuel now represents over one-third of our costs and particularly affects our long-haul flights.’
The impact of high oil prices will undoubtedly affect airline profits, which are expected to halve this year. While International Airlines Group (IAG) has seen a rise in passenger numbers, costs have been rising faster and this may continue with further political unrest in the Middle East, as well as the recent natural disasters we have seen – in particular the concern about the nuclear power station. These concerns have led many airlines, including IAG to engage in hedging, where airlines try to protect themselves from rising fuel prices by agreeing the price they will pay for fuel several months ahead. There are undoubtedly risks of doing so, but with such high prices, this is a practice that airlines have engaged in. After all, fuel does represent over one third of IAG’s costs, so this price hike is hardly unexpected, but consumers will inevitably be affected.
British Airways increases fuel surcharge by £10 Telegraph, David Millward (5/4/11)
BA raises long-haul fuel surcharges BBC News (5/4/11)
BA passengers face fuel surcharge hike Sky News (5/4/11)
BA long-haul surcharge to go up The Press Association (5/4/11)
British Airways ups longhaul fuel surcharge Reuters (5/4/11)
- What are the causes of rising oil prices?
- What is the process of hedging? Are there any risks involved in it? Under what circumstances could hedging enable companies such as IAG to gain and lose?
- What impact is this surcharge likely to have on consumers? Who will it affect the most?
- What explanation is there for rising passenger numbers, yet falling profits for IAG?
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.
Throughout October we saw widespread strikes, from bins to the post and airline flights to buses – and it’s not yet over. (See article The Winter of Discontent: the sequel?) Last November, BA cut the number of cabin crew members, despite strike action, which delayed hundreds of flights. This issue has yet to be resolved and over the weekend, there were further talks to try to reach some agreement. However, no truce was reached and so further strikes are now expected. Indeed, the Unite union announced the results of another ballot of cabin crew, showing even larger support for strike action.
However, BA is not the only airline facing strike action. Some 4000 pilots at Lufthansa, a German airline, called a four-day strike, following disputes over job security. This has led to thousands of flights being cancelled and thousands of passengers left stranded. Although the strike was suspended after one day, the dispute is not settled.
The stimulus for this action appears to date back to the huge turnover that Lufthansa made in 2007, with pilots feeling they should have a share in this success, along with its recent purchase of Austrian Airlines and the need to turn this into a profitable enterprise. The Lufthansa pilots are concerned that foreign pilots will be brought in to replace them in order to reduce costs. The airline fears that this strike could cost them about £21.9 million per day. With both sides unwilling to yield, it looks as though many passengers may find themselves stranded for a bit longer.
- How effective is the strike action by Lufthansa and BA likely to be? Which factors affect this?
- With a huge turnover in 2007, why were pay cuts at Lufthansa felt to be necessary by the company?
- How would wages be determined in the airline industry without trade unions? Illustrate this on a diagram and use that to explain why some workers get paid more than others.
- On your diagram of wage determination, now illustrate the effects of a trade union entering the market. How are wages and the equilibrium level of employment affected?
- Other than striking, what other options do workers and unions have?
- If strike action is costly to BA and Lufthansa, why don’t they simply agree to the unions’ demands?
British Airways has been fined £270m for their part in a price-fixing cartel. Fines were levied by both the US Department of Justice and the UK Office of Fair Trading following an agreement between British Airways and Virgin to fix the level of surcharges charged to passengers as a result of rising fuel prices.
Where’s Branson’s apology? BBC News Online (Robert Peston blog) (7/8/07)
BA’s price-fix fine reaches £270m BBC News Online (1/8/07)
OFT defends ‘snitch’ policy Guardian (5/8/07)
BA boss speaks out over price fixing Guardian (3/8/07)
How arch rivals colluded to hike up cost of air travel Guardian (2/8/07)
||Define what is meant by the term ‘price-fixing cartel’.
||Explain the characteristics of a market that are most likely to result in a cartel.
||Discuss policies that the government could put in place to prevent this kind of price-fixing arising in the future..