It is with serious regret that I just learned (a little delayed) about the retirement of Karl Fisch, author of the first ever YouTube video that went viral having a lasting impact on my life. It became the first ever thing I blogged, when I moved over the first articles I wrote elsewhere to the FoodForThought-blog: Shift Happens Narrated. The post contains a short summary of what led to the story, it is the most-read post on my blog ever and keeps being read 5-10 times every months.
Three years ago, Karl wrote an article on his blog I recommend reading; The Shifty Years.
I hope you understand the respect when I quote another famous author for the farewell. May life treat you and yours kindly!
So Long Karl … Thanks for all the Fisch … And I hope it’s not the last I’ve seen of you! Shift Happens.
Working this week with a group on topics like P.R. and Corporate Strategy, there are some basic rules, again resurfacing on my conscious thinking…
Two topics were in hot, heated discussion these days, especially when we talked bout Cognitive Disonance: Greta Thunberg and Boeing 737MAX.
Not only in the big cities around the globe, also in towns like Brunswick (Braunschweig), the movement Friday for Future is a root movement. Following the example of a little girl from Sweden, kids go demonstrating around the world to promote the need to counter climate change. In Germany, formerly pacemaker of “green development” the government is way behind their own targets, let’s not talk about the Paris world climate targets. In Tirana, the city “stinks” from car gasoline fumes. Scientists believe it’s not five to, but five after twelve already! We can only reduce the impact, no longer avoid it.
So now, surprise surprise, that kid in Sweden went on the street to demonstrate against the political powers that be (PTBs) ignorance. That action triggered a cord and other kids around the world thought it a good idea and joined in the demonstration. Demanding action to secure their future. And all those PTBs can respond with is that they’d be truants? Their only reason to go on the streets is to be skipping school? That’s all you can come up with? Sure there are the one or other camp-followers, but mostly those kids have genuine concern about their planet.
But their activity provides a good example for cognitive dissonance. They put a finger in a wound that most of “us” adults have long found our way to suppress. Because the information does not compute. We know we kill the planet, but let the others start saving it. What can I do?
My personal answer is to support the kids. To not “look away” and “blame the others”. In German history, our people looked away, the blamed others. It caused a holocaust.
Michael Jackson sang about “The Man in the Mirror” to make a change.
In Germany we had a barrel-burst campaign “You are Germany” – what do you do to make things better?
Interesting, what discussions are triggered, discussing cognitive dissonance resolution and how different nationalities and cultural background result in totally different approaches. In Germany, a typical approach is to dissect good ideas and find faults. Can’t tell you, how many “friends” in the past year told me that KOLIBRI.aero cannot work. It did very often remind me of that favorite quote by Lazarus Long (a Robert A. Heinlein character): “Always listen to the experts! They tell you it is impossible and why you can not do it. When you know that: Go Ahead!
Another very good example and discussion topic this week about cognitive dissonance resolution was the Boeing B737MAX.
Our industry always promotes Safety First. But I have a lot of examples that our industry works on the limits, hoping for the best. Be it my recent post about disruption management or the managing of airport turnaround (A-CDM), we all know that we do not work efficiently. But cognitive dissonances often result in ignorance, suppressing conflicting information. We know the truth, but we suppress it, give ourselves explanations to justify the shortcomings.
Now there was another crash of the Boeing B737MAX after Lion Air Flight 610 crashed in Malaysia half a year ago (29Oct18). While there are also “supporting reasons”, as usual a chain of events that leads to disaster, I personally believe it was mainly the ignorance of Boeing engineers, developing an MCAS, not informing pilots about such an important design change. Combined with a semi-religious faith in their technology. But I believe computers are there to assist us. I remember the Air France flight 447, where the instruments showed wrong data, switched off the computer, in result the flight stalled and crashed into the the Atlantic. We also should be reminded about the “unsinkable” Titanic.
After the recent crash in Ethiopia, there were calls for grounding of the aircraft instantly, given the similarity to Lion Air 610. It is noteworthy and was discussed very controversial, that our own minister responsible for aviation voiced against a grounding, only to be overruled by EASA. But neither America, nor Europe responded “safety first”, but focused on the commercial impacts of a grounding instead. Meanwhile even the U.S. under Donald Trump confirmed the necessity of the grounding and aviation sources expect that grounding to take on for several month. Which does remind again of the pioneer in jetliners, the de Havilland Comet, loosing three aircraft in nine months, which lead to understanding of metal fatigue on the air frame called by the way the metal was connected using bolts – creating micro-fractures.
Now Boeing implements a new technology to cover up for the new behavior and instead of being transparent, they hide. Then the sh** hits the fan in Malaysia. The event now shows that Boeing did not operate “safety first”, but mismanaged it by delaying the necessary update. A result of cognitive dissonance resolutions? It must not be, so it is not? That backfired now and is a rather pathetic expression of professional disaster management. That the U.S. and Boeing had to be “convinced” to ground the aircraft has proven a big mistake. Today, the media reports that the Ethiopian officials confirm a very similar situation and “many parallelisms” to the Lion Air crash.
We cannot and must not operate on the Principal of Hope! An airliner recently posted that we need a crash to change something. I disagreed, but Boeing did itself and our industry a major disfavor to the reputation of aviation safety. Media today also refers back to the 787-incidents and grounding resulting from batteries catching fire. What I do not understand is that following Lion air Boeing P.R. obviously did not develop a “worse case communication plan”.
From Wikipedia:“On March 11, 2019, in response to the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines accidents, China was the first country to order all 96 of its 737 MAX aircraft grounded. In the days following the Ethiopian Airlines crash, airlines and authorities around the world suspended the operation of Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft (or in many cases all 737 MAX variants) one after another, contrasting with the usual coordinated approach. Two days later, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration […] became the last in the world to ground the aircraft, reversing its previous stance. Boeing eventually recommended the grounding to the FAA.”
It must not be! It cannot be! So it is not.
Cognitive Dissonance Resolution at work…
… and the Ongoing Demise of Small and Mid-Sized Airlines
P.S.: While I wrote this article, Germania, an airline that I know from the beginning of my career, who’s team I booked at American Airlines to Seattle to pick up their first 737s, an airline I have had a personal attachment to, went into insolvency grounding all aircraft after many years of financial losses. The demise of Air Berlin 2017 brought easyJet on their home-apron in Berlin in force, no longer some competition, but clear one-on-one. Such the chance to establish lucrative routes in Berlin evaporated. Instead of benefiting from the demise of their largest local competitor, Germania had to sit aside, watching the threat growing.
Germania did, what they had to do, they focused on niches. Niches that were too small, to fragile to give them safety. Routes they developed well always threatened to be taken over by their competitors operating with lower cost. Erbil, under threat of war, Beirut, …? They announced a base in Pristina (Kosovo). They ordered A320neo, in an attempt to stay somewhat competitive to their competitors like easyJet also introducing the modernized aircraft. Else they operated tourism charter flights – which are in great demand in summer, but one after another airline in that market files for bankruptcy at the end of the season. And Germania published financial troubles as early as August 1st, 2018. So they could not do what needed to be done: Generate enough money in summer to succeed across the harsh winter.
You cannot succeed if you play it small, if your cost is not competitive to your competitors. Not the small virtual airline competitors, the other “day flies” lasting one summer season, two at best, but the big ones. The easyJets, Ryanairs, Wizzes, etc. It’s not fuel cost development that kills you. It’s bad management. It’s a strategy without USPs or with very weak ones – there’s reason, the other airlines don’t bother the routes Germania did.
And as I outlined in an article I published on LinkedIn, this was no sudden issue, they lost money for years!
As it is being said, the unexpected increase on EU261-expenses, the “EU passenger rights” also had it’s impact on the financial situation. If you sell a ticket for € 100 and you must compensate € 300, it does impact your revenue. So back to the topic – flight disruptions.
Having worked last year on the business plan for KOLIBRI.aero as well as on projects related to Airport and Airline Operations Control Centers, flight disruptions have reappeared as an ongoing topic of increasing concern. And my experience doing a study a few years ago at delair together with Zürich Airport (ZRH) about the impact of the deicing forecasting and management tool on Swiss (airline) operations at Zürich became a strong source for my advise to airport operations managers.
When working with ZRH “Ice Man” Urs Haldimann on the study, I also got some feedback from Swiss. While managing the deicing in winter is not that much a problem, neither airports, nor passengers understand the rippling effect to the schedule. And often enough, not the airline’s own managers. That in the evening in warm Mallorca, the flight may be late, because of a deicing delay in the morning. So while higher force is accepted for the flight cancelled in Zürich, very often, the airline is required to pay EU Passenger “compensation” multiple the price for the ticket. So a major delay can be far more costly than just related to the immediate flight.
The harsh winter 2013/14 in North America (as likely this recent one) became known in the deicing industry as the Polar Vortex. The accumulating delays forced JetBlue into a “two day network reset”. Crews and airplanes were anywhere but where according to schedule and crew planning they were suppose to be. It took the better part of two days to relocate aircraft and crews back to the planned position, also to make sure the crews received their legally due rest, to then start the new day with a fresh start. As needed as that decision was, imagine the impact to passengers on flights that are booked usually 80-90%.
Disruptions can also be thanks to airport closures for other reasons, delays can be caused by as trivial as a broken baggage belt, a common thunderstorm or a ground handling crew doing a coffee break in the wrong time window – all things I experienced in my professional life. Flight crew duty times and technical delays are more common. Did you know that the Top 10 of “punctual” airlines have 15-20% of their flights delayed? That means 1 out of 5 flights is late. To “celebrate” such achievement is beyond me, I honestly feel embarrassed that our industry cannot do better! Don’t come with the typical “explanations” covering for the incompetence to do better. Needless to mention that this is about “departure delay”, whereas passengers truly don’t care about those as long as the flight arrives on time, right? I was recently on a flight that left “on time”. Doors were close, the aircraft was sitting at the gate, waiting for it’s slot in the deicing and departure.
More recently, Primera Air, Azur Air or Small Planet Airlines closed down. Cobalt Air followed shortly after I published the blog post. At least for two of those airlines the cause was said by their respective CEOs to have been “unexpected” cost for delays and disruptions. Though not reconfirmed, rumors have it such were also the cause for the financial troubles Germania faced in Mid-January 2019, filing insolvency early February (see P.S. above). “Refund portals” organizing refunds for delayed passengers result in higher number of refunds. Small fleets with no spare aircraft causes the ripple-effect to sometimes swap over into the next day(s).
Lesson learned from my research about Zürich delays: It very often is cheaper for the airline to cancel the flight to make sure the further aircraft “rotation” (planned flights for the remaining day/week) are not impacted. Especially if i.e. winter operations allow for “higher force” reasoning of the cancellation. While the airline can show goodwill and help the stranded passengers, in such situation they are not legally forced to add the legal, excessive passenger compensation for delays. It also in fact reduces the overall passenger upset. And Zürich can predict the delays!
What I expected quite a while ago is the information of upcoming delay situation to the inbound planned airlines. The example I keep using: Once Zürich (or any other airport) learns about arrival-, turnaround- or departure-delays would inform KLM before their flight leaves, that it would likely develop delays in Zürich and may have an excessive delay departure, maybe KLM would cancel the flight?
The concern: But if those airlines cancel their flights, then the flights will leave early, so KLM could operate on-time…?
Ain’t that shortsighted? Oh holy dear Saint Florian – don’t burn my house, take the neighbor’s one…
So what would be needed would be a bonus/malus system. If an airline “volunteers” for the sake of the overall operation, to cancel a flight in such a situation, maybe it’s relatively empty, could be merged with the following flight – the airline gets a priority the next time, so the full flight gets an on-time departure. An airline deciding not to join that system will never get prioritized and take what they get – including the delays.
Another ongoing discussion is the promotion of the big players for “SaaS”, Software-as-a-Service, more commonly known as “Cloud Computing”. What in my experience lacks of one vital thing, the fallback for a “line down”. There have been three cases that I (just me) know of last year, where line-down caused major flight delays. Because there is no fall-back in place.
That problem is multiplied by data silos. As Daniel, VP at IBS points out, there are too many screens an operations manager in the typical airline Operations Control Center (OCC) or also in the AirPort Operations Center (APOC) have on their desk, using old-style Gantt-charts, weather maps and other “sophisticated tools” that show them what happens out there. Very little tools that analyse the data automatically, giving you decision support on a disruption. Or warning you of potential disruptions giving you decision support how to avoid them.
While we do need to replace those multiple screens with dashboards, highlighting what to look at, I disagree to some extend with Daniel’s implications, as I believe we will need to be able to expand from the problem, onto the relevant Gantt charts, graphs, tables and maps. Worse in my eyes is the underlying reason for those screens, as they are clearly attributed to data silos. And if the left tool does not know what the right does, if the airport, the ground handler, the airline have different “realities”, no wonder we have friction that results in ineffective operation causing “issues” and delays. As I mentioned in my article about APOC, OCC, NMOC five years ago. And if I ask about interfaces and am told “XML” or “ASCII”, we talk about triggered “push” or “pull”, but not about a live interface. Another data silo.
Coming back, to close this FoodForThought-article, let’s come back to Germania and other airlines which we have lost recently. If you have no assets (aircraft leased or sold/leased-back which is the same), if you outsourced everything (to which I include “cloud”), if you don’t have “spares” for covering up disruptions, you make a very good business case on the old joke: “How do I become a millionaire in aviation? I start with a billion.” Or the other one: “Saving, no matter the cost”. It’s called a “virtual airline”. And I predict we see increasingly those virtual airlines to fail, as they lack size, assets and revenue (RASK) to compete with their competitors.
While we work here on a business plan for a new airline, we did discuss and disqualified many of the existing airline models. Is that negative? Or realistic?
These days some news hit me in short succession, that make me rethink the assessment my friend Ndrec and I made when discussing possible, viable business models for a new airline.
I did the picture above a mere year ago. Meanwhile Niki is gone too, as is Virgin America. Mighty Norwegian being said to be likely acquired by IAG shortly. We have “new” players like Blue Air. But the question for any new business case must be:
What is Your (E-)USP?
Now Ray Webster, former CEO of easyJet opened the Routes Europe Conference with a keynote:
“I don’t see long-haul low-cost as a viable model. Operating a small aircraft across the Atlantic is not efficient, and low-cost carriers aren’t going to fill a 787 or an A380”
Ray Webster, former CEO easyJet
Even students traveling on longer flights do want more services the longer the flight gets.
In contradiction to that assessment, Eurowings now opens up New York-services, taken over from the late Air Berlin operating from Düsseldorf. We all looked at Norwegian, though their “success story” also seemingly was bought on the cost of revenue, the airline now is said to be acquired rather shortly by British Airways/Iberia holding IAG (also owning Aer Lingus).
Whereas I simply do not understand the “brand strategy” of either Lufthansa or IAG…
IAG: Aer Lingus, British Airways, Iberia, Level, Vueling … Now Norwegian adding to the mix of “it’s not me”?
Lufthansa Group: Air Dolomiti, Austrian, Brussels, Eurowings, LGW, CityLine, Swiss, Sun Express. Also “it’s not me”?
The work on a business plan for a new airline was triggered last year initially by some investors, going down the same “me-too”-dead end using old, inefficient Boeing 737-aircraft. Cheap to get, but their fuel consumptions renders them virtually useless.
BlueSwanDaily believes in the future of Supersonic… Are you kidding me? Yes, I believe supersonic will come, but expensive niche for the rich and wealthy. No real change to the Concorde business model.
I myself worked out a “green” concept a few years ago, but we’re neither getting there… The project got grounded in the wake of Lehmann Brother’s and a world financial crisis and the original interested investors gone never took up speed again. [Update: The Korean Wingship seems a ready-to-go WIG, though using conventional fuel, no green hydrogen or battery powered e-engines]
So we looked at models that differ from the existing ones. Where are unservered or underserved markets and why are they not served well? One issue sure is the airline analysis tools misleading their users to “established routes” and airports.
So we started with the original intent of a small scale operation. And recognized why so many such projects are doomed. There is a pilot shortage hovering on the horizon, Ryanair running pilot acquisition as far as South America and Asia. Most airlines do not value their workers but drain them.
And having discussed the very same issue again yesterday with friends who must relocate in the automotive industry as a direct consequence of overpaid managers, back again, using old images:
Maybe. Just maybe. I believe Ndrec and I came up with a sound business idea, which requires far higher investment than we originally envisioned. Coming with a round and sound business plan paying off that major investment in 10 years safe. Because we do have a unique selling proposition (USP). Because we do have an emotional USP. Because we thought it through and instead of failing at the first obstacle, we save cost from day one and make this a company to work for?
And working on that, we learned a big deal about the faults of the airlines we see in the market. And it boils down to the normal questions: What’s your (emotional) USP? What makes you different, why should the intended consumer decide to use your product. We see too much “me too” in the market. Buy your market share in the B737/A320 shark pond?
30+ years ago, my training officer told me that joke:
A man starts a business selling screws.
His friends questions him: “You buy
the screws for 1 €, you sell them for 95c?
How do you want to make money?”
“Oh, the quantity does it!”
My training officer told me to look after yours. Not only in the company, also your supply chain. Make sure you have long-term suppliers selling you the quality you need for a good reputation.
Later I learned the same lesson from space shuttle Challenger, management ignoring their own experts warning them of the temperature being below safety specifications. Shuttle Columbia dying of a piece of foam worth a few cent perforating the heat shield. Of Concorde crashing from a “minor” piece of scrap metal.
I’ve paid very high (in hard Euro) for another lesson. Starting with a sound idea (regional airlines’ franchise concept to share cost and operate a larger scale of operations), it turned out later that the stakeholders did not look for a franchise, but a means to start their own small operation and “share” the cost with the other small players. Clearly understanding the small operations to face obstacles they cannot overcome on their own. Could not. Cannot. Will not. A costly mistake I made. But lesson learned!
Then at delair I learned about airline disruptions and how our industry uses historic processes to “manage” somehow. How airlines use manpower instead of intelligence to cope i.e. with a winter storm.
With Ndrec, I found a seasoned manager understanding the need to either do it right – or don’t do it. And we got surprised how much money we save if we do it right! Not short term, there we need more to invest. But then very shortly, within less than 10 years. Now we reached the point of the reality check: Will we find solvent institutional investors helping us to pull this off? Cross your fingers.
For all those other airlines out there… Do your homework. First and foremost: What’s your USP? What’s the business case?
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
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.
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.