These weeks I am most disturbed, how U.S. President Trump keeps pushing commerce above life. I can only hope that the world stands united up to him.
Just a few headlines that hit a nerve with me:
“Donald Trump slashes size of national parks in Utah to allow drilling” [Telegraph UK]
“Native Americans to Sue Trump Over National Monument Downsizing” [Voice of America]
“How Trump’s Declaration Inflames a Middle East Already Ablaze” [Mintpress]
“A Brief History Of Donald Trump Stoking Islamophobia” [Huffington Post]
“US: Devastating Impact of Trump’s Immigration Policy” [Human Rights Watch]
“President Trump Calls for Ending Diversity Visa Lottery Program” [Time Magazine]
“Trump’s eldest son questioned in Congress about Russia” [Reuters]
“I’m a Multi-Millionaire So Trump’s Tax Plan Is Great for Me.” [Time Magazine]
“Trump Tax Plan Will Skyrocket National Debt” [Financial Tribune]
“What Will the End of Net Neutrality Do to America?” [Huffington Post]
“What Trump’s Latest Attack on Planned Parenthood” [Vogue]
“Commentary: The Hidden Victim of Trump’s Tax Plan: Your Health …” [Fortune]
All those developments show the excessive greed of Trump, not looking after “the small people”, but about his mighty, his rich friends and his own interests. The U.S. changing to support capitalism at all cost. Who cares? He doesn’t. And this is the head of the most powerful country in the world? While Obama enabled a social security for the poorest, Trump slaughters it. North Korea, Venezuela, Jerusalem, … in my opinion it’s only a question until Trump “wags the dog“. And that man holds that famous suitcase.
I also keep wondering about the U.S. Dollar as a “standard value”. We work on a European business plan, no link to the U.S., but I get quotes in US$, instead of local or Euro-currency, that we use in our calculations. One of the reasons, if not the reason for the U.S. to sustain such high national debt is the “Petro-Dollar” dominance. But that is more and more threatened. And U.S. aggressively enforcing their dominance. How much longer? With Trump isolating the U.S., adding more debt beyond (my) imagination, I predict more and more commerce to move from “US$” to bilateral currency exchange. Quo Vadis U.S. of America?
When I recently won the U.S. Visa in their annual lottery (another Trump target), I said I was not sorry, it couldn’t work out. Having grown up virtually on the premises of the famous U.S. 1st ID Fwd, “America” was a childhood dream. It never worked out. With Sonia having the pacemaker and me at that time recovering from a major surgery ,I likely couldn’t have afforded living in the U.S. under threat to life. And my American Dream is shattered into more pieces day by day. So today I keep it with Pink Floyd’s High Hopes:
Beyond the horizon of the place we lived when we were young
In a world of magnets and miracles
Our thoughts strayed constantly and without boundary
The ringing of the division bell had begun
Along the Long Road and on down the Causeway
Do they still meet there by the Cut
There was a ragged band that followed in our footsteps
Running before times took our dreams away
Leaving the myriad small creatures trying to tie us to the ground
To a life consumed by slow decay
The grass was greener
The light was brighter
When friends surrounded
The nights of wonder
Looking beyond the embers of bridges glowing behind us
To a glimpse of how green it was on the other side
Steps taken forwards but sleepwalking back again
Dragged by the force of some in a tide
At a higher altitude with flag unfurled
We reached the dizzy heights of that dreamed of world
Encumbered forever by desire and ambition There’s a hunger still unsatisfied Our weary eyes still stray to the horizon Though down this road we’ve been so many times
The grass was greener
The light was brighter
The taste was sweeter
The nights of wonder
With friends surrounded
The dawn mist glowing
The water flowing
The endless river
The last months we worked with two regional airport operators on a route viability analysis both airports see as a exceptionally promising: Saarbrücken (SCN) to Reggio Calabria (REG).
Their problem is that it is rather difficult to get the hard-facts on it. Based on our work with CheckIn.com, they thought we might be the right people to look into this.
At first, talking to airline network planners, I was referred to the analysis tool providers. Though interesting, I got the “results” from four of those tools, three “disqualifying” the route, the third one (more correctly) failing with the information of insufficient data. The problem is, that the route in question has never been served before. There are some “comparable” routes, we found the two tools returning results used, from airports in the vicinity of Saarbrücken to Catania (CTA) on Sicily or to Lamezia Terme (SUF) in Calabria.
Then we were referred to the ACI “standard” QSI (Quality Service Indicator), specifying how a route potential is being calculated. There is a very nice introduction to QSI on the website of the North American chapter of ACI Airports Council International. But if you read that introduction, you are going to get very quickly to “factors” and “coefficients”. And that they are variables, subject to interpretation and weighting, they are “relative values”. And while I found my usually very open sources at IATA, OAG and FlightGlobal distinctly tight-lipped, when I called and asked about QSI, they quickly confirmed that their tool follows those principles and how much and why their tool is better than their competitors.
One airline network planning director clearly told me those tools they use, but they are useful only on existing (or to some extend historically existing) routes. As he had provided me his initial impression on that route, I questioned his initial response and he confirmed that they use those tools with an “almost religious” faith. So if they look into a new route, knowing their tools to have a bias towards existing routes, if their tool returns “not viable”, it builds a major obstacle to get them to look into such route.
So we also had a look ourselves into the “route data”, getting statistical data from those other routes from Eurostat (avia_par), the airports, two of the tool providers, as well as three airlines. As discussed in The Numbers Game, we once more were confronted with conflicting data. Public data on Eurostat shows different numbers for outgoing HHN-SUF compared to incoming SUF-HHN. All numbers “close by”, but in most cases, the numbers did not correspond to the other sources! So what “quality” do we talk, if we in a single industry cannot agree to a fixed value?
Okay, so we decided we take the average of the different values we received. Then we compared to the various catchment areas from our CheckIn.com analyses, both the pure isochrone-populations as well as our competitive analysis. Where we found once more that the drive-time zones themselves resulted in major offsets, rendering any attempt to interpret the results as useless. On the competitive reach, we found some “trends”, though it showed clearly that the more routes and airport has, the more choice such is given to the traveler, the lower the average choice of a traveler for a specific route. But even with those constraints, looking at the catchment area confirmed potential interest in the route.
More interesting, I found that aside of Eurowings with about 75-80% load factor on their flights, all other airlines operated with load factors of around 80-85% and up to 90% on an annual basis. Such, it seems that overall, there is very high demand for travel between the regions. But the tools disqualify flights. Hmm.
Working on a viability study, other approaches are to look at the regional demand. Where we got confirmed, what we knew before. There are no reasonable statistics on a regional level. Yes, you get all the statistics on a small scale from Saarbrücken to Italy. Or from Reggio Calabria to Germany. Okay on Luxemburg. But is Italy Northern Italy with higher purchasing power, commerce and industry? Or Calabria? Is Germany Munich, Berlin, Hamburg, Düsseldorf, Stuttgart, Frankfurt – or Saarland or Saarbrücken? You. Got. To. Be. Kidding. Me.
So yes, we can see how much of the industry is where (percentages), how many “Italians” live in the Saarbrücken region, but without there local research (they have done), we could not know that their “Italians” are mostly from not just Calabria (state) but Reggio Calabria (city)… Whereas we talk about many “2nd generation”, having German passports, not showing up in those “statistics”.
So yes, we did the numbers crunching, but those numbers are to be taking with a big grain of salt. Discussing this with my friend, that afore-mentioned airline network planning director, I could “see” his smile. “You check some basics, to get a feeling and have some numbers to confront the [Powers-That-Be, PTBs] in those regions with. Then you travel there and confront them and learn that all you learned is useless and why. Then you talk to the PTBs and learn if and why they believe it makes sense, you question them from your experience and then you decide if it makes sense to take the risk and fly – or not.” And he referred to my 2012 post on the Crystal Ball and told me that he liked my conclusion in it: “I take a big long stick and grope in the dark. It requires expertise, experience and good guesswork to do something with all that information you get. Good luck is part of the business.”
Hmmm… It confirms what I recently told the Minister President of Thuringia, discussing on Facebook about population emigration they suffer. Emphasizing the need to better support the airport to attract incoming business and the necessity for scheduled flights, I told him, it is not the airport acquiring airlines, it is the region. As soon as an airline network planner researches Erfurt and finds all the negative buzz about that small airport there, if they hear the PTBs having promoted bus service from Frankfurt when they had a flight connecting them to Munich, when they learn that the state officials and commercial (state-paid) delegations traveled from Berlin or Frankfurt instead, they understand that the people in the region do not support flight services. They’ll look at the story behind the closure of Altenburg. Then they likely look for locations where the PTBs support flights. Politicians, local industry, tour operators, the people and the media. Discounts on landing fees are a minor factor on the cost and risk of an airline operation. (Except for Ryanair). They are an indicator, if the region is willing to support the flights. I am afraid, that Minister President did not understand that, he instantly fell back into the “airport bashing”, questioning, why in the past the airport’s subsidized flight services did not succeed. No, he did not heed my words. In fact, he was prejudiced and simply did not listen but took his “instinctive” fall-back position on “airport”.
Working with small regional airports over the past years, I know many airports heeding such words, their PTBs in strong and unquestioning support of “their” (regional) airport. Who publicly want their airport and want it to succeed. Who fight for it and take a stand in discussions for their airport. And yes, Connect or Routes Europe are places where you can meet and talk to them. Though there I also heard just recently (again) that many airlines are showing interest in the big airports only and the small have trouble getting a time slot to make their case. Where Connect° had the advantage on the small airports.
Coming back to the issue of this post. My airline friend and I discussed for several hours (thank you!). And rather at the end, he emphasized, why he invests only little time in “analyses”. Because all those analyses will promote the big buddies. They will confirm business potential on the large airports with data silos full of supporting statistics. But they will disqualify any of the small airports solely based on the fact that there are no “supportive statistics”. Following our discussion, he wrote me a very short message: “Jürgen, the game is rigged. Your catchment area stuff is the first thing I saw to give me a somewhat unbiased view on smaller airports in years. Those [other] analysis tools are sold to sell us statistics. Stupid network planners and the ones trying to play it safe and by the books, requesting the QSI. It’s why mostly the small airlines, who can’t afford those tools start new routes.” And why he emphasized to me that he and anyone in his team wouldn’t bother about any route viability studies based on the statistical history of the airport, except for an indicator. “If you play it safe, you just follow the crowd.”
In the past weeks, we got shocking news. Where the insolvency of Air Berlin was more or less expected, the grounding of some 20 thousand flights impacting more than 700 thousand passengers by Ryanair – attributed to a “pilot shortage” – as well as the recent demise of Monarch Airlines came more of a surprise.
Air Berlin sure was no surprise. In fact, when Lufthansa senior manager Thomas Winkelmann in February joined Air Berlin, everyone in the industry knew that he wasn’t taking such post leaving Lufthansa Group, but to prepare for a takeover by Lufthansa. At the same time (February) Etihad “extended” their cooperation, Etihad, being main investor at Air Berlin’s arch enemy Lufthansa? Then they wet-leased 28 aircraft (all A319 and many of their A320s) to Lufthansa’s low cost subsidiary Eurowings, five more to Lufthansa subsidiary Austrian Airlines…? All 321s to be given to Niki, former Air Berlin subsidiary, in December 2016 Air Berlin sold all stakes in Niki to Etihad. Niki now being rumored to be sold to Austrian Airlines…?
To be surprised like Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary, now calling “fire” such is hypocritical. What I do find questionable is the handling of long-haul flights, Lufthansa has (never had in my opinion) the intention to take over Air Berlin, they just positioned themselves for a prime spot, preparing the inevitable insolvency to secure the prime pieces for themselves. Yes Michael O’Leary is right, but a surprise? Calling now for “law and order”, him who bends the rules every time he can?
Air Berlin made many mistakes, trying to evolve from a specialist in tourism flights with a strong USP with their hubs in Nuremberg and Palma de Mallorca to become … something? A low cost airline? A scheduled airline? Operating a mixed fleet of A320- and B737-family aircraft, but also small Bombardier Dash-8 Q400 (50 seat turboprop). Trying to operate low cost, but also doing feeder flights for Etihad? And long-haul flights using five A330 aircraft? As a German saying goes: “Alles, aber nichts richtig”: Everything, but nothing right.
What I see mostly critical is the intentional “mismanagement” of the A330, also the Dash-8’s seem more like a neglected annoyance, not an asset. And a management considering a success to save 80% of more than eight thousand jobs. So 1.600 will loose their jobs. Well done Mr. Winkelmann, I’m sure you will get a bonus and a job promotion for that (blistering sarcasm).
What I find fascinating indeed is the interest of Lufthansa and easyJet in the A320 aircraft. But that I’ll come to below.
So now how about Ryanair? Ryanair used an “outsourcing” model, where Ryanair did not employ pilots directly, but through some questionable constructions (typically Ryanair that) they made the pilots operate as self-employed, only paying them for flight hours. No social security, sick-leave, guaranteed vacation. Several countries (including Germany) started legal investigations in that model.
I have questioned that approach ever since I first heard of it, as everyone in the aviation industry knew that we face a shortage of pilots. Given availability and demand, with the large number of aircraft orders, easyJet and Ryanair both are known to seek to sell aircraft from their enormous back-log of orders they placed with Airbus and Boeing. At Paris Air Show this year, I discussed with experts, confirming that this already backfires on both Airbus and Boeing, as they have to lower their own prices as those airlines handover the substantial discounts the gave the low cost airlines for their humongous orders.
Canadian CAE released a study at Paris Air Show claiming “50% of the pilots who will fly the world’s commercial aircraft in 10 years have not yet started to train”.
So aside a saturation of the European market with A320 and Boeing 737, we are short on pilots. Now Ryanair “pilot management” increasingly questioned, it is no wonder that pilots are open to “competitive offers”. It’s about how you treat your staff. Now Ryanair pilots not really employed by Ryanair, what keeps them from taking up better offers? Then Ryanair decided to change the fiscal (and vacation) year to the calendar year and did not take into account that this will result in a shift in vacation demand in the process? Obviously the managers did armchair decisions, not thinking them through.
To my believe, this situation is a mix of Ryanair bending the rules, offering tickets at prices below any reasonable levels. Confirming my concerns about “hidden income” Ryanair applies. It would be interesting to have a look into Ryanair calculations as how they can offer flights with average fares below the common cost of Kerosene. Not even talking about the aircraft, staff, administration and maintenance. Though yes, I know markets where they also charge more reasonable “average fares”, seems they not everywhere find ways to milk the regions for subsidies of questionable legality.
Some smart-asses say that was already clear from last year that Monarch would have to close down. But Monarch did quite some development in the past year and it hit about anyone I know rather unexpected – as well as passengers, airports, media! Not having any true details on that, it only confirms by view about Boeing 737/Airbus A320 families.
Update: Financial Times reported 750 thousand future bookings having been cancelled, other media says more than 800 thousand future passengers, of which more than 100 thousand are stranded and only a minority covered by tour operators’ insurance for packaged travel…
Boeing 737 / Airbus A320 – the Work Horse…?
I have worked on projects with investors buying into Boeing 737. Instantly I questioned the business case for that aircraft. On the one side I hear from airline network planners how increasingly difficult it is to find viable routes for their aircraft. 189 seats usually. On the other side, being bound to those aircraft families to keep the complexity = cost in check, they now add even bigger aircraft with 220-240 seats to their fleet. How that should “improve” the situation is simply beyond me. All that can do is to cannibalize other routes, fly less often.
Now there is a pilot shortage, airlines operating those aircraft are fighting to utilize the aircraft with a sustainable revenue. Insolvencies like Monarch Airlines with 35 aircraft and their flight and cabin crews will likely result in a short relieve for the likes of Ryanair. But given the new aircraft deliveries, that is a drop on a hot stone.
I believe, the market is oversaturated. When “Low Cost” started, the A320 and B737 offered the best cost per seat and loads to compete with existing airlines on the “common” routes. For regional aviation, that aircraft was and is too big. Nowadays we see a consolidation of airlines operating that aircraft, be it Alitalia, Air Berlin, Monarch but even Ryanair, though for different reasons.
Another issue is a feedback I got from a financial expert. There are financial funds for aircraft. All those funds currently suffer as soon as the initial leasing is over from eroding revenue, often resulting in substantial financial losses even before the end of the first 10 years. Thanks to the eroding prices of A320 and B737 aircraft, thanks to the low cost airlines passing on the substantial discounts they received from the aircraft makers on their mass-deals, result in a faster drop of value than anyone anticipated. As FlightGlobal reported already back in 2014 in their special report Finance & Leasing, Norwegian established their own leasing subsidiary to try to sell or lease their surplus orders. And they’ve not been the only one, easyJet and Ryanair do the same, trying to get rid of the liability those aircraft became.
While that gives airlines access to competitive (low) priced aircraft, it ruins both the aircraft makers own price policy, as well as it cannibalizes the business model of the institutional aircraft lessors.
With order books exceeding delivery times beyond 10 years, only large airlines or institutional investors have the funds to invest over a time frame of 10 years. With new aircraft makers building aircraft competing with the Airbus, offering similar or better economics and substantially lower delivery times, airlines using “The Work Horse” take a more or (likely) less calculated risk to bet their money on a work horse. I wonder if there’ll be some (Arab) race horses suddenly and unexpectedly coming up with new business models and more efficient aircraft using the unbeaten path as a shortcut?
And yes, we just work on a business plan for such a “new model” making use of new ideas, unique selling propositions for investors, travelers and airports. No magic involved, just some creativity and willingness to think different.
As many of the readers of this blog know, I am somewhat personally attached to that little airport in Central Germany, Erfurt-Weimar.
Last week I was taken into a discussion by Thuringia’s Minister President Bodo Ramelow, about how to stop the down-spiral of emigrating Thuringians. Which reminded me about the likewise discussion we had in 2009 shortly before I joined Erfurt Airport with the task to stop their downward-spiral on their passengers.
Real Life Example
What I was faced with was an extremely negative image of the airport within the region. And a lot of demands on how to do business from amateurs in the industry, politicians, tourist offices, etc.
First day at work, the GM of Tourism Thuringia, Bärbel Grönegres was quoted in the local newspaper (TA, 02Mar09), having visited the United Arab Emirates to promote medical tourism to Thuringia. Having a Munich-Erfurt flight by Lufthansa-Partner Cirrus Airlines at the time, she recommended the Arabs to take a flight to Frankfurt, to be picked up with a bus for a +3 hour tour to Thuringia. Tourism material did not contain reference to the airport. Questioned about the reason, her reply was “Who knows, how much longer we will have that flight”. Ever since, that became a prime example I use for “negative thinking” or “calling for disaster”.
The next winter, the Thuringian Olympic athletes brought home a record number of medals. But at the following ITB, it was more important to promote Franz Liszt, who lived a dozen years in Weimar. The fact that the Russian-Orthodox chapel, Grand Dutchess Maria Pavlovna who’s invitation brought him to Weimar has built and got buried in is under direct protectorate of the Russion Orthodox “pope”, the Patriarch, such making it a pilgrimage site for the Russian Orthodox church has completely failed to trigger any support by Weimar or Thuringia Tourism. Air Berlin reported it to be a “known reason” for a substantial part of their Russian Berlin-passengers to add Weimar to their travel plans.
In order to promote the government-funded route, after fierce discussions, Cirrus Airlines agreed to offer a low-cost ticket at 99€ return, having only about 6€ after the high taxes on the ticket. That offer was made available especially to the Thuringian government offices and the state development agency (LEG). Nevertheless, LEG planned and executed delegations traveling with the train to Berlin to take flights from Berlin, instead of promoting the route. The same also for the ministries and ministers. Even the responsible minister taking flights from Frankfurt and Munich instead of using the PSO-route he signed responsible for. During the months we’ve actively promoted that 99€-fare also to the industry and the travel agencies and also had it largely available, not one of the flights used up the 99€ tickets allocated to them. Being at the verge of a bankruptcy, Cirrus Airlines finally ceased to operate that route in December 2010.
By the time, working with the local industry associations, political parties I have been able to increase the passenger numbers by about 20 percent. In fact, to date, the airport is far from the 320 thousand passengers I left them with. With Weimar being the neighboring but historically better known city internationally, I pushed forward the renaming to Erfurt-Weimar with the attempt to improve the incoming for the airport. Paid almost completely from the limited marketing budget. A strategic decision executed after our parting-of-ways in December 2010 after my two-year contract was not extended in the wake of the retreat of Cirrus Airlines. A strategic decision though made obsolete by the “political” decision by traffic minister Christian Carius to not replace the route as I recommended with an Amsterdam-service. Sad decision indeed, as with our parting ways, the discussions with KLM were simply discontinued (KLM calling my number reached someone speaking German only, I was gone) and despite their interest in a PSO (public service obligation) financial route support, we had discussed flights based on mere startup incentives and marketing support.
Opposing myself ongoing subsidies, to demand a route but to leave the (substantial) risk completely with the airline is neither the answer. Whereas comparing the CheckIn.com-data about airport catchment areas with the data provided by airports we found that data to be completely off-set in a majority of cases. It caused us to make basic data available for free. But if the data provided by the airport is not hard, but guesstimates or outright lies, when the airline starts a flight based on that data, the airline takes the risk. To not only does the airport sneak out of the responsibility, they increase the airlines’ risk – is that a game? Or serious business?
Now since I started in aviation 30 years ago, the market has drastically changed. In the good old days, there were (often highly subsidized) “national airlines”, used to promote the country. Back in my early days, the airlines were the executive for the tourist offices and also worked closely with commercial development agencies. But ever since, those national airlines have either adapted or went out of business. The emerging “low cost” airlines virtually evaporated the income of the airlines, competition becoming fierce.
As I keep emphasizing with my updated image of Purchasing Power and Airports, there is a relation between a strong airport and the regional purchasing power. It is indeed a hen/egg issue, but if you are a small airport in a weak region, maybe it makes sense to consider how to attract travel (tourism, commerce) to your region. Not how to drain your region of the money by sending the population to the Mediterranean for vacation, but by having incoming, scheduled services, by adding point-to-point routes and to attract low cost airlines.
If we do not talk about PSO (Public Service Obligation) where the government pays for basic flight services, if you build an airport and wait for airlines to find you, keep on sleeping (and burning money). So if you are a small airport and you have little to no money, what can you do?
Having an airport is not enough any more.
The airport is part of the region’s infrastructure. As such, it needs to be integrated into a political and commercial strategy. Whereas in the example of Erfurt-Weimar, the airport is being kept as a scapegoat, being challenged in one sentence for the aviation noise (a good joke with so few flights) and for not having flights. A political punch-ball.
Other, successful airports like Memmingen in Southern Germany are integrated into and understood as a strategic value for the regional development. In fact, Memmingen is not politico-owned but owned by more than 60 co-owners from the region’s industry. Such, instead of being a scapegoat for political power games, everyone in the region understands the need to actively support the airport. Anyone harassing the airport confronts everyone in the region. A political suicide!
At Erfurt, I was asked to establish flights to Moscow. One company. 10 employees. Even with a small (expensive) 50-seat aircraft and weekly flights only (which are usually not sufficient for commercial demand), we talk about 40 seats by 52 weeks in two directions or 4.160 tickets to sell every year. But for a decent offer that is useful to the industry, you need at least twice weekly flights.
Leaving that task to attract airlines to the airport alone, at the same time running blame games and scapegoating, the airport cannot justify such flight. But what if the state development agency and the chambers of commerce, on demand by the political PTBs (powers-that-be) qualify the demand from all those small and midsized companies? Not on a low-cost, but with reasonable ticket prices. Not at prime time at the maximum risk for the airline. Maybe instead of a weekly, can the region sustain a double or even triple-weekly flight making it interesting for the companies in the region? Are those companies willing to support the launch period by committing to use the flight, even if slightly more expensive than a flight from Frankfurt or Berlin? Keep in mind, the people have to get there, you also pay for gasoline/parking or rail. Transport to those hubs is not free either. And the longer check-in times make them even less attractive, right?
Interesting approach. I’ve talked to several smaller airports where they agreed that their chamber of commerce and regional development agencies “pre-purchased” tickets at the cost of the average ticket price needed to cover the operational cost. Then they to sell it to their members. Not covering the full cost of operations, but simply taking their share of the risk! Why should they not, if they believe in the numbers and data they provide to the airline to promote their business case?
Then talk about Tourism. Given such flight, are the local tourism PTBs ready to promote such flight in the outlying region? What about other promotion? Don’t leave it to the airport! Is there a joint concept by the political PTBs, the state development and commerce PTBs, the tourism PTBs on what flight they want, how they will promote the flights?
“We have an airport”. That’s nice. But not enough.
And for a Minister President even only on a state level? You better think about a strategy. Or close down the airport. Having flight to summer vacation is not enough. It drains money from your region into those destinations. What’s in it for you? Why do you fund an airport? No scheduled services? No incoming? Do your homework.
It’s no longer the job of the airline to promote your region! They simply don’t have the funds to do that. It’s not their business case.
It is the job of the political, commercial and tourism PTBs to qualify what they finance an airport for and come up with ideas and business cases for airlines to take the risk to fly there. And no, a “business case” is not necessarily paying subsidies. If you have a good business case that the airline will make money on the route by flying paying passengers, I can rest assure you that the airline will prefer that over subsidies that are usually associated to political nightmares.
Compiling sound numbers is a good start… And yeah, I might be willing to help you with that.
Discussing Routes conferences, I recently appreciated several discussions about the imbalance of route financing in Europe. In the discussion, we boiled it down to a simple question:
Who Takes the Risk?
As we all know, airlines struggle to make money. Which I personally believe is a house-made problem. The use of legacy systems, legacy distribution models make the legacy carriers operate on a cost per seat that’s no longer competitive. In the 70s, a cheap return flight Frankfurt-New York was 2.500 German Marks, about 1.300 Euros. That was 40 years ago. Today the cheap flights sell for below 400 Euros. Return! So the revenue melted away. The cost for aircraft and seats got cheaper too with bigger aircraft. The fixed cost of the flight divided by seats. But that’s another story.
So who are the players in the game.
Let us look at my example I keep using consulting airlines and airports about new routes. At Join! we usually start discussing new routes with airports and quickly learn day in / day out: Everyone wants new Routes, the analyses supporting the case are mostly biased, it all looks sunny-shiny, but no, they don’t want to take the risk. In EU-Europe, they are often not even allowed to take the risk. How stupid is that?
So we usually approach the chamber of commerce, state development agencies and such asking for concrete demand for the routes the airport asks for. All we usually get is some wishful thinking. This company wants flights there? How many seats a year? 4-6… You got to be kidding me…? When we tell them the simple maths, they frequently retreat and have no answer.
An A319 has 124 seats. At 80% average load (which is low nowadays), we talk about 96 seats. Which have to sell out and inbound. At four flight pairs a day (five to six weekdays, two to four on weekends), we talk about eight legs in average (more is better). At 365 days, we talk about 280 thousand passengers the aircraft should fly every year. Let’s take out some maintenance, but we still get to a target of 250 thousand passengers. For each daily return flight, we talk about 200 seats target. For a double daily, double that.
The A320 or 737-800 is around 189 seats, so roughly 50% more.
Keep in mind there are disruptions. Less frequently on the technical side, the aircraft makers understand the cost involved in a technical grounding. But the airline has to have resources to survive such groundings. But we also talk about weather related flight cancellations. Flights remaining empty for the one or other reasons. Days people tend not to fly (religious holidays), fluctuation in demand… We talk about delays made worse by passenger compensations required by law. The disappearance of interline agreements allowing for involuntary rerouting of the passengers, not to talk about regional routes where the flight might be the only choice.
The cost of aircraft, crew, kerosene, insurance, distribution, maintenance etc. pp. being calculated, adding the “taxes and fees” on top, you talk about a cost per seat per leg at 80% load factor as somewhere between 70 and 100 Euro. On a 99 Euro return fare on the Erfurt-Munich flight in 2010, Cirrus Airlines after taxes and fees had less than seven Euros.
The airports are restricted in what they can do, usually to discounts on the local fees. So the classic:
The Airline Takes the Risk. The very common approach. Yes, we give you discount on the landing fees. A drop on a (very) hot stone.
Guaranteed Load. Classically the field of tour operators, purchasing a fixed number of seats on the flights. Works very well in high season, but in the past two decades, the number of flights where the tour operator charters the aircraft became negligible. Even in that market, most flights are “set up” by the airline and then marketed to a number of tour operators. Once the shit hits the fan, as recently i.e. in Turkey, the tour operators cancel their seat allocations leaving the airline suddenly with unfilled air planes. But the aircraft is still there, it costs money!
A similar approach is to get such guaranteed seats from corporate clients, though they usually demand “lowest fare” for the guarantee at “last seat guarantee”, adding difficulty on the pricing games the airline can play. So a good airline sales makes sure to keep the flexibility. We discussed the purchase of (virtual) ticket stock at cost per seat + X, but very few of the corporations demanding a specific route then come up and commit. So we’re back to the airline taking the risk.
So in reality, we can (and have to) look at realistic scenarios.
“What are the facts? Again and again and again-what are the facts? Shun wishful thinking, ignore divine revelation, forget what “the stars foretell,” avoid opinion, care not what the neighbors think, never mind the unguessable “verdict of history”–what are the facts, and to how many decimal places? You pilot always into an unknown future; facts are your single clue. Get the facts!” [Lazarus Long]
And even with all the facts, navigating the future is a risk. Get what you can in the best quality. The better and unbiased the data, the less your risk!
If you know me, I am no fan of subsidies. You got to understand who benefits and to what extend. Get the maths down. then invest.
On the other side, there may be reason for permanent “subsidies” by the region flown from and to. As they benefit from better flight connections, from tourists, business travelers, commerce, taxes. Why is it that I keep asking if anyone has some sound research to share about the impact of a new flight to the economy? Why are the state development agencies “in need” but unable to qualify that impact to their economy? I am still convinced airports like Erfurt-Weimar, Lübeck or Kassel need scheduled services to be connected to the global aviation networks. Not to the nearby hubs that they can reach easily with rail or car. But studies exist that confirm that beyond four hours drive time a flight makes sense.
Sharing the Bloomberg headline What Do You Want, Cheap Airfare or an On-Time Flight? Daniel (S.) today quoted from the article on LinkedIn: “An ultra-low-cost carrier will never, ever try to be as punctual as a big legacy #airline. Being on time all or most of the time costs money.”
After an initial misunderstanding we agree: That is stupid!
Delay and disruption management are the single most important influenceable cost factors in aviation today!
Yes, we can make good aircraft deals, we use revenue management to sell out tickets as expensive as we can in the low-cost world. But operations is the single most important cost driver we can influence today. We can neglect it, like many seasoned airline and airport managers do, we can deny and ignore it. And loose money.
While doing the research at late delair for the Zurich Airport case study, focusing on the impact of a contemporary deicing management, just that improvement in (IT-supported) process saved about 20 million in one winter alone there. For Swiss (about 50% of the flights). Now working on a financial summary that thanks to the acquisition of delair by SITA never made it “to market”, I spoke with the OCC (Operations Control Center) manager of Swiss in Zurich. Who confirmed what they all knew (and know), but their management remains blissfully ignorant about: It is all about rotations in an airline. The aircraft starts somewhere in the morning and flies to different places throughout the day. And a disruption or delay anywhere en-route is prone to impact the entire rotation. Worse, a late aircraft usually accumulates more delays as ground handling is also tightly scheduled without spare manpower to cover up for such situations. Then crews fall out of schedule as they have to have their rest times. And while the airline may reduce the financial damage by calling for higher force on a snow event in the morning, on the flights down the line, I am told they tend to pay. And passenger compensation often exceeds the value of a single ticket!
In 2014 I wrote this article about Airport Operations Center (APOC), Airline Operations Control Center (OCC) and ATC’s Network Operations Center (NMOC) and how they do not communicate with each other. I asked just recently about a common airline system with decent, contemporary, f***ing basic interfaces and learned that noneof my precious industry expert friends knows such. Worse, I got more feedback than I wanted about the issues all my friends in this industry can tell about; where thanks to missing such data flow, the right hand does not know what the left one is doing. In the process, trying to improve a bad situation, but working with different information, making things often enough worse.
I also heard just this week, how airline managers love the big planes (A380), a Lufthansa manager was quoted that they love the big bird, but that they don’t know if they can ever be operated long-term commercially revenue-making. Or read a comment, how much these airline “managers” love new inflight entertainment and seats and fancy stuff. But don’t understand, why Windows-XP-machines in their OCC need replacement. It’s “fancy”, touchable, visible to see the airplane or fancy seats, but no-one sees the impact of deicing. Okay, we have a winter-delay. Who cares, we’ve calculated it into our prices forever and it’s been always like this. It can be improved? Who cares.
And while the airlines benefit, I hear from the airports that they do not show any interest in A-CDM and A-CDM improvements. While they cut into the flesh on most airport’s fees, while they let them starve; while most airports need to invest heavily to compensate the losses from “aircraft handling” by doing their best to increase “non-aviation revenue”, while this is daily life today, airlines demand airports to invest into those technologies and development and process improvements, but are not willing to pay. Did Swiss pay a Penny (Rappen) for the improved deicing at their home airport? Make a guess.
So while I know that seasoned managers in aviation act that stupid and short-sighted. Delay and Disruption Management is the single most important factor we can influence to save big money.
Three news this week I find noteworthy about easyJet.
Where I have learned early to have the greatest respect for Dame Carolyn McCall, she now resigned at easyJet to join the TV industry. And the same time, easyJet is in the process to acquire an Austrian AOC (air operators certificate) to prepare for a post-Brexit world. Third, they celebrated their delivery of the first A320neo (new engine option) and converted A320-orders to A321.
While the first may be a career move for Dame Carolyn McCall (and that is all that counts from any employee view), it is a tragic loss to our industry. And I might be wrong, but I believe this will be similar to the loss of Steve Jobs at Apple.
Carolyn McCall has understood that “service” and “behavior” are not that expensive but important difference-makers. easyJet customers’ loyalty is substantially stronger than Ryanair’s or British Airways’. How you treat your customer not only if legally required (Ryanair continually failing even on that) makes a difference. I learned back in my early days with American, that friendliness and a smile are the spoonful of sugar the traveler needs. And they understand things can go wrong, even more than our industry pretends.
Her successor is rumored to be likely easyJet Christine Browne, the management remains to keep it’s female touch. But does she understand, live and provide the role model for “her” airline about “customer focus”? Or will she fall into the trap American did in the days when Bob Crandall left, to focus on money, money, money?
easyJet on the Move?
About the process to obtain an Austrian AOC, there are several pitfalls and hurdles I see in that decision.
Austria is not truly a “low cost country”. Which is similar true for the U.K. or Switzerland, but where the U.K. enjoys two strong source and destination market with London, Switzerland enjoys a very strong economy. And they are rather flexible on taxes (Wizzair is in Geneva for good reason).
If and how the Brexit impacts the U.K. market remains to be seen. But Austria and Vienna do not have that strong a market. And while Basel has been underserved by classic airlines, at Vienna easyJet will face potentially fierce competition from Lufthansa group, whereas they might hope to benefit from the retreat of Niki from the Vienna scheduled flights market.
The flying part though is not the issue of my concerns, I’m sure easyJet will do okay on that end. But establishing a “sub-HQ” in town comes with a price tag. And there are other European cities that might have been cheaper and bureaucratically more efficient than Austria.
A320/321neo. A Change-Maker?
The third news that “hit the media” was about the delivery of the latest Airbus A320neo, as well that they convert A320-orders to A321s. Such they upscale the fleet to the 250-seat A321s, I have concerns.
While the A320neo comes with 12% better performance, by 2022, when all orders are delivered, the aircraft will reflect about 1/3rd of the easyJet fleet. And as Airbus changed the structure, the “old” ones can not simply be “upgraded”. So on a fleet level, that will account for a 4% benefit. Or to give a common example: For a 100 Euro ticket, you then might pay 96 Euro. Though I happen to believe that this will be simply accumulated to improve the ROI of the airline.
Further, on the “work horse” A320, it’s only 25%, the others are A321neo’s. Whereas I believe the A321 will simply cannibalize routes that are currently operated by A320s. Whereas, will larger aircraft and the “better economics” per seat equal the lower possible frequency? And frequency is something business travelers like. Is the cost advantage that high that it will exceed the advantages of a higher frequency? I have my doubts.
Quo Vadis easyJet?
How will those two decisions impact on easyJet?
Get me right. I love easyJet for many years. Their inflight product is as good as their overall friendliness and efficiencies. They focus on business case but keep customer-centric in mind. But as Ryanair, they try to sell aircraft they ordered, finding it hard to place the large aircraft in Europe. Now they face a Brexit and size-up the aircraft, cannibalizing their existing routes at that.
For Carolyn McCall it is a good time to leave the company at the peak of “her” success. The successor will phase some repercussions out of his/her control, as well as some tough decisions to make.
The last weeks were rather challenging. Speaking at Passenger Terminal Expo on Data Silos, Silo Thinking and the need to Tear Down the Walls, Yulia and I also worked on the update of the airport passenger statistics, adding movements to the database to expand our information. And we fell right back into The Numbers Game trap.
The main Key Performance Indicator (KPI), the value that reflects the “importance” of the airport, is the passenger numbers. All other KPIs, like movements, on-time-performance, revenue are scondary. Where I can understand that airports publish preliminary numbers for the press, those numbers are then updated and finalized. By that time, they reach Eurostat, national statistics, Wikipedia, ANNA.aero, Airports Council International (ACI), IATA and other official bodies. How do you define “Total Passengers”?
But then we go back to the airport’s monthly and annual passenger numbers. And to give examples that really bugged me the past weeks.
Spanish AENAhad what I understood an error in their May-data. The numbers are three to four times above the average. And their own annual numbers confirm it, being about that difference too high. If I’d be lazy, I would simply correct the May numbers so the annual total matches the total given by AENA. But is that the error? Working professionally, I informed AENA (airline marketing). Matter of fact, as the airline, I’d be embarrassed and would make sure those numbers to be updated immediately. After one month of no reply, I inquired. Both verbal (phone) and e-Mail. The response was a “blame game”, I shall contact the statistics group at AENA. Excuse me? That’s your understanding of customer support? Are they unable to clear that internally, bothering the customer with the internal (bureaucratic) hierarchy? The following week, the numbers were still not updated. Now, that is embarrassing. So the fact is, I do “unprofessionally” and assume the mistake, as the data owner neglects the issue. Again. Main KPI.
And their tables? Monthly data split to 12 tables, available as Excel without the airport code. Why again do they provide “Excel”-format? Not for quick data-exchange, that’s for sure. The day after I wrote this blog, AENA finally identified the “error” on the data. While all other files showed the current month’s data, the may file was set to show the accumulated data Jan to May. Nevertheless this though being just a “forced error” and not a real data issue, it proves my point that it’s enforcing errors if you split the data into tables. And it does not change that the different subtables in those same Excel sheets are sorted by “totals” instead of airports, such you got to re-sort. And spend time associating the IATA codes to the airports.
ANNA.aero maintains what they call the European Airport Traffic Trends “Database”. Now in order to make sure we have all airports’ data that publish monthly numbers, I imported the data into our database and compared. And instantly ran into trouble. Because for i.e. France, more than half the airports’ monthly data does not sum up to ANNA.aero’s annual total. As such, the data must be disqualified for professional use! Interesting, three French airports responded to Yulia’s inquiry for official numbers to use ANNA.aero’s numbers. All three airports being ones where the total does not compute.
ZRH-BUD route level data. We wonder, why we have four different values for the route Zurich-Budapest for out- andinbound passengers. Two of them by the respective airports. Two courtesy by “official data providers”. Different numbers on a single given route?? So we find ourselves at a loss, we likely won’t use them. Not just for Zürich oder Budapest, but that is just an example! We happen to wonder, how Eurostat can compile passengers, flights and seats and, when the airports say they don’t report such numbers.
We find several sources for public accessible data. Sometimes you find it on the airport’s own website, somewhere in “Statistics”, sometimes in a press release, usually not in one, but in 12 press releases (see image). And even when publishing the annual numbers in one file, the file comes as a PDF, formatted that they cannot be extracted into a table but copy into one value a line. On a complex table, that renders that useless. So the airport forces users of their data to write the data off the PDF? You can’t be serious, can you?? Sometimes national airport associations publish the data, usually monthly. After we found them to occasionally change the formatting and order even within a given year, we double-check that on the import, burning valuable time. Then we learned to now download monthly data before the annual one was available, as we also happened to fall the trap of intermittent changes (see ANNA.aero). Many such files do not contain the airport codes. But the airport name in the national language. Upper case. No, that does not compute easily and is prone to cause data errors.
Even where Excel is being provided (like by AENA), the files are not ready for instant import, very often missing the unique IATA airport code that would allow to properly associate – but usually airport names in national and uncommon naming, requiring additional work to add the three letter codes to allow for proper import. And then you have those cases, where the monthly numbers do not sum up to the annual totals.
All in all, that shows the neglect airport managers handle “numbers”. Given that we all talk about e-Commerce for 20 years now and for 20+ years I keep addressing the data quality as an issue. Before the internet, airports published their data in the format they now provide by PDF. For journalists or other data providers to type them off. They simply moved the paper to the PDF, being a print format, not a data exchange format. They obviously did and do not understand that times have changed. Keeping with the times, they should maintain and publish the data in ways that they can be pulled using an HTML-call (returning a given-format CSV), if that is not possible, they should at least use an Excel file. If they change data, they should inform the data users about that. But nothing at all shows the modified file (rev.1, v.1), so in case of a discrepancy they enforce a check of all monthly files. Again, we talk about their main KPIs, something they should be interested to make sure that everyone uses the “right” number.
Catchment Area Case Study
Based on our (constantly expanding) catchment area case study about the numbers given by the airports, we understand the concerns, disbelief and rejection of such airport numbers by airlines. As any quick check from other sources (like our free isochrone analyses) unmasks them as useless, guesstimates or even intentionally beautified. I confronted Fraport Bulgaria with their given numbers in a brochure I picked up at ITB Berlin, being 2.3 to 2.5 times, or in percent 230 to 250% above our sound, European-wide calculations. Initially, they backed off, not knowing of the brochure, so I forwarded them photos of it. Then they referred to “drive time offsets”, neglecting the fact that we have comparisons on a European scale and even giving extremely ambitious drive speeds, that calculates to 10, 20% offset at the maximum on the population reach, but not to 230 or 250 percent! So instead of taking this up professionally, their managers decided to stick their head in the sand.
Passenger Terminal Expo 2017
Speaking at Passenger Terminal Expo in the Management & Operations track (speaker notes here), I challenged my audience about Data Silos, Silo Thinking and the need to Tear Down the Walls. It addressed A-CDM and why A-CDM rather usually gets stuck in the early stage of the process. Silo Thinking and not invented here being the most common cause as all my friends in the A-CDM arena tell me. The same being true for airport managers. And an airport general manger told me: “If we don’t embrace that we got to exchange our data, we miss to do our job”. I was sorry I had to tell him his airport being one I don’t have the passenger data for yet.
Another Post Scriptum: These weeks, another several faces left our industry, another “trusted face” leaving UBM. Some few remaining in aviation at least, others move on to other industries, others again (like myself) struggle to keep in our industry.
Ever since I started addressing “Airline Sales & e-Commerce” in 1994″ at the Airline Sales Representatives Association (ASRA), I emphasized the importance of the “face to the customer”. A Logo, a face are things, users attachthemselves to emotionally! It’s your emotional USP. Customers (“contemporary” B2B, B2C) knowing someone in the company attach themselves to it. That is not all, sure. Prices for example must still be competitive But not ultra-low. Reputation of the company can (and does) outweigh the price. But also the person you know there usually has an impact to who you make business with.
This is an example from 2007, explaining it to the ASRA members. Unfortunately, they proved they did not understand it. Neither the need as usually well paid Sales Managers to embrace the “new sales channels”; in most airlines the “traditional Sales” and “Social Media” are different divisions. Some airlines more recently trying to bring together what’s meant to be together, usually at the expense of the “old faces”. Nor did my ASRA fellows understand the importance of networking, the group fell apart two years ago and is meanwhile unregistered.
And let’s not go into brand management here, I addressed the idiocy to rename and kill brand identification often enough.
“New Airline” Business Concept
In the last weeks, I got approached about investors being interested to invest into aircraft, seeking which business model to use. The initial idea was Airbus A320 or Boeing 737, leasing that to the low-cost airlines. As if we wouldn’t have a record on the order books, long delivery times and the low cost airlines recently leasing their aircraft to other airlines as they find it increasingly difficult to find new routes. So I came up with a completely new model, quickly qualified numbers and viability and offered it to them. The intended aircraft maker learning about the idea took it up.
Friends I introduced the business concept to, in order to qualify it and get questions about the viability answered wondered why no-one has established such a model yet. I think that takes a little hammer. Or some out-of-the-box thinking.
Working on that concept and following up on Passenger Terminal Expo, also about my rather negative experience with HR and head hunters a discussion arose about a shortcoming of our business culture:
We mostly agreed, that most managers today encourage a narrow-minded thinking. This is your job, don’t you bother about the jobs that are managed in other departments. If you do in fact think outside the box, you challenge such managers.
As I outlined in my summary on the Hamburg Aviation Conference, my friend Daniel expressed his believe that within 20 years, there will be no more passengers fees.
At the same time, Michael O’Leary was recently quoted that he expects in very short time they will offer the flights for free.
But flying costs money, no matter how good the aircraft engines become, terminal construction and maintenance, ground handling, air traffic control, gasoline, pilots, cabin crews, aircraft, insurance, it all needs to be paid. And no matter how effective you calculate …
… someone has to pay the bill.
Airlines lower their ticket prices, covering the “loss” with “ancillary revenues”. While those “ancillaries” have been understood as services previously bundled (inflight meal, baggage, flight insurance), they meanwhile extend quite into “inflight shopping”.
At the same time, traditionally airport landing fees, split into the landing and passengers, covered for the airports’ cost of operations and development. This basic, sensible model is now threatened. It will change. But how. When the airline and airports fight for the revenue of the passenger – I believe both will loose.
So currently it is a fight between airport and airline for the money of the traveler. I hear airlines expressing their anger about the airports increasingly draining the pockets of the passengers pre- and post-flight. And the airports upset about architectural changes enforced by the evaporating aviation income, forcing them to add shopping in arrivals halls and rebuilding terminals for improved shopping, i.e. forcing the passenger through the duty free store. Or how to speed up the check-in process to increase the dwell time of the traveler to spend more money shopping. And the shop owners about the increasing pressure to cash in on the passenger in order to pay the expensive rental deals with the airports. And, and, and…
And no, it does not help to imply that the politicos should provide airports similar to train stations. Yes, it is true, airlines bring business to the regions. Airports are important infrastructure. But in the end … someone has to pay the bill.
What we will need is a serious, joint discussion about the future business model in aviation. At the moment there is no discussion. There’s the airlines, the airports and business models that cannot work. And we need to have the politicos and the usually government-controlled ATC (and border control, security, etc.), we have to have the ground handlers, the shops and all other players on the table. You can’t reconstruct all the small airports. We don’t need a fight. We got to work together for a sustainable business model. ERA, AAAE, IATA, ICAO, this is your call.