The weekly rollerboard 12 January

AA’s inaugural A321T service. Image: Edward Russell.

This week Australia’s mantle for offering the best transcontinental airline product in the world – which Australian’s unjustifiably love to pick apart as woefully inadequate – was challenged for the first time in perhaps two decades as American Airlines launched its new premium A321T service from New York JFK to Los Angeles.

Compared with the past decade of woefully inadequate product offer onboard American carriers, the product reinvention is a welcome return to the days of glamorous transcon air travel. There will be a 30 per cent increase in the number of first class seats AA offers as business class and economy decline by 13 per cent and 27 per cent respectively. Continued capacity rationalisation carries through to the strategic relaunch with AA’s total New York-Los Angeles capacity decreasing in favour of frequency growth from ten to thirteen services daily.

Continue reading “The weekly rollerboard 12 January” »

Looking to the sky in 2014.

Our 2013 retrospective, and Airbus breaking with tradition on A350 MSN2 , inspired me to take a look at what this dynamic industry might have in-store for 2014:

A350 MSN2 the first test aircraft to be fitted with a full cabin interior in its new carbon fibre scheme. Image: Airbus SAS.

CASA Regulation
Some big regulatory changes will take place in 2014. In particular, CASA will need to guide the Australia’s airlines on the use of Personal Electronic Devices (PEDs) following changes to regulatory legislation by the FAA in the US and EASA in Europe. Currently Australian carriers are self regulating in this respect, but moving independently as a way to gain competitive advantage will only create headaches for crew in enforcing use on-board.


Image: Graham Cook

Domestic capacity
The war will continue until the end of the first half, bringing further revenue pressure to the Qantas and Virgin groups. Qantas has invested too much the public rhetoric behind in its strategy, to back away now would look like it was giving in. Not the best market image to present given its current financial position. Expect the Federal Government to make small changes to the level of single foreign ownership to the Qantas Sale Act.




Sydney Airport
The political future of Tony Abbott’s Government depends on their ability to deliver a courageous bipartisan policy decision. With a promise of a decision, a ‘government of no surprises’ will now need to deliver with a real commitment on Badgery’s Creek. This will come as a stage 1 single runway development, with no rail connection, because Abbott’s made it clear he doesn’t like trains. Also expect a change to the slot caps at Sydney Airport, starting with the 05:00-06:00am landing window.

Continue reading “Looking to the sky in 2014.” »

Qantas Fleet Review: A different look at an all Boeing affair.

What are you looking at?

Qantas’ Sydney Jet Base hosted a Qantas Group fleet review on the weekend to showcase Jetstar’s new Boeing 787-8. An all Boeing affair, on display were 717 VH-NXG, 737-800 VH-XZB, 747-400 VH-OJM, 767-300ER VH-OGG, and 787-8 VH-VKA, with unprecedented access to explore the aircraft.

Continue reading “Qantas Fleet Review: A different look at an all Boeing affair.” »

A new reality: Jetstar’s first 787 arrives in Melbourne.

VH-VKA – operating as JQ7878 – touched down at Melbourne Airport at 13:13, five years and eight minutes behind schedule. It might be slightly late, but its an awesome achievement for the Qantas Group.

No longer a dream. Jetstar’s first 787.

787 test flight

Almost seven years after the order, and five long years of delays, Jetstar’s first Boeing 787-8 is here. Well, almost. It will be at 1305 AEST on Wednesday October 9.

Continue reading “No longer a dream. Jetstar’s first 787.” »

Too little, too late for Perth Airport’s lacklustre redevelopment?

This article is a supplement to last month’s Perth Airport, best in airport design? Unlikely.

Perth Airport’s $750 million redevelopment is resonating well with a public that laments current facilities, but will the terminal redevelopment actually provide ample space to handle growth?

Westralia Airports Corporation (WAC) Perth Airport’s is known for underestimating traffic forecasts. Master planning is based on a prediction of 3.5 per cent compound annual growth, with total passenger traffic of 18.9 million per annum by 2028-29. Unsurprisingly redevelopment plans provide no terminal passenger capacity forecast, stating only that the consolidated development will ensure the already under-capacity terminal is capable of handling passenger growth to 2020.

Australian Government BITRE statistics show between FY1991 and FY2011 Perth Airport recorded:

  • 20-year compound growth rate of 7.6 per cent p.a.; and
  • an increase in aircraft movements of 260 per cent.
  • Passenger growth between FY2006 and FY2011 was 9.2 per cent p.a.

In FY2012 passenger traffic will pass the 12 million mark for the first time. If growth continues at current rates passenger traffic will reach 24.8 million to 40.7 million passengers p.a. by 2028/29.

My math tells me it’s unlikely.

Perth Airport’s current international terminal. Royal Brunei no longer serves Perth. Image: Stuart Sevastos

Is airline resistance to blame?

When WAC reduced its commitment from a ‘world-class’ facility, its main reason for not investing more was “any attempt to design to a higher standard would be met with resistance by airlines, reflected in a refusal to support resulting investment plans”. Perth’s smallest international operator Qatar Airways is ‘the world’s best airline’, and the majority of Perth’s largest international operators are based at airports designed to IATA Level of Service (LOS) A standard, and others such as China Southern, Virgin Australia and Garuda are moving upmarket. Wouldn’t these carriers want facilities at a standard higher than simply average?

Further proselytizing its decision, WAC ‘recognised’ “that lower airport operating costs relative to other airports enhances the viability of air services to Perth and therefore increases the prospect of attracting new services”. True for all airports, particularly those in high competition areas, but Perth Airport’s nearest major competitors are Adelaide, South Australia; Darwin, Northern Territory; and Denpasar, Bali, all over 2,000km away.

What about new operators and LCC traffic?

  • Air China will likely be the next Chinese airline serving Beijing and/or Shanghai, China Eastern focused on growing North American services;
  • Vietnam Airlines to Ho Chi Minh City is a possibility given Perth’s growing Vietnamese population and outbound Australian tourism;
  • Etihad and Virgin Australia to Abu Dhabi;
  • Kenya Airways has confirmed Boeing 787 services to Nairobi from 2016; and
  • Long-term potentials: Korean Air (KE) to Seoul, and Hawaiian Airlines (HA) to Honolulu. HA has made significant strides in developing HNL into a Pacific hub. KE is aggressively targeting in-transit traffic and serves many small-low traffic cities with less than weekly frequency using convenient connections to high-frequency heavy traffic destinations to attract custom.

Air Asia’s largest Australian operation is to Perth with 31 return services a week from KUL and DPS.

In 2007, Low-Cost Carriers (LCCs) accounted for just four per cent of Perth’s international seats. By 2010 they accounted for 27 per cent. While LCCs have increased the ratio of outbound trips per person, frustratingly WAC believes this is over as “there is a limit to the number of outbound trips from residents that can occur”. Pardon? Correct me if I’m wrong, but LCCs:

  • do actually carry inbound passenger traffic;
  • have a substantial stimulation effect on markets; and
  • operators serving Perth will increase. Batavia Air and Lion Air may serve Perth from Indonesia. Jetstar may introduce new Asian destinations, including perhaps resuming QF Group services to Tokyo. Not to mention IndiGo in India, and more services by Air Asia.

WAC highlighted the differentiated basic service needs of LCCs noting only “some LCCs are unlikely to support the redevelopment…because it will increase airport charges”. If it was only ‘some’ LCCs that opposed a ‘world-class’ terminal, why didn’t WAC plan a fully independent LCC terminal allowing the airport to offer diversified services through distinct airline products? Dedicated terminals only enhance an airports value proposition for both LCCs and full service carriers.

Is this development too little, too late? Perth Airport doesn’t think so, but it’s not going to take the public long to realise they weren’t given the best in airport design.

Qantas, the little airline that couldn’t.

When I was young I wanted to be a Qantas pilot. Growing up I was granted the privileged opportunity of being invited into the cockpit for landing in various Qantas aircraft at various airports around Australia. The dedication and enthusiasm with which staff undertook their jobs was an inspiration to me.

20 years later, and I don’t know how I feel about Qantas. Today’s Qantas just goes through the motions. The timid annual result announcement is a reflection of the diminishing presence Qantas is playing in the lives of Australians. It is also a reinforcement of the distinct strategy which Qantas has chosen to follow.

The annual results also show a distinct change in Qantas rhetoric. Gone are the battle cries of a “65% line in the sand”, replaced by “The Group aims to maintain a profit-maximising 65 per cent domestic market share”. Brave faced Qantas executives are worried. Continue reading “Qantas, the little airline that couldn’t.” »

Cathay Pacific engages Qantas-Jetstar in airline weiqi.

Cathay Pacific has used a submission to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to publicly reveal its stance to the Qantas/China Eastern establishment of a Jetstar Hong Kong subsidiary.

Cathay has been biding its time in indicating its position toward the establishment of Jetstar Hong Kong. Rather than publically lambaste the opposition, Cathay has veiled its opposition in a response to Qantas’ application for greater pan-Asian cooperation with subsidiary Jetstar.

Cathay Pacific and sister carrier Dragonair, have spent decades developing a formidable operation at their HK hub carried on the back of Hong Kong and China’s booming economies.

Supported by an unquestionably good product, multiple daily services to almost every destination they serve, and significant versatility in the way they use their fleet. Cathay CEO Slosar makes it clear “we compete with multiple low cost brands every day,” and any challenge to this dominance is not taken lightly.

While still undetermined, Cathay’s submission gently reminds the ACCC of the potential restrictions any Jetstar HK operation may/will be subject to, if the carrier is granted permission fly at all:

It is also possible that conditions may be imposed on any approval given in Hong Kong. Accordingly, it may be difficult for the ACCC to authorise the proposed conduct in relation to Hong Kong if it is unclear whether Jetstar will be give approval to operate flights within Hong Kong.

The statement highlights the sway over relationships that Cathay has spent years developing right up to the top levels of the Hong Kong Government, and indeed, throughout Asia. Any Jetstar operation in Hong Kong will require a change of Hong Kong’s constitution, and Cathay also knows full well that a decision on regulatory approval for Jetstar HK is unlikely to be made “made until some way through 2013”.


Why did Cathay make its move?

In late June, Qantas’ applied to the ACCC to cooperate more closely with Jetstar in the Japan, Singapore and Vietnam markets. Qantas is requesting to coordinate various business and operational functions between Qantas and all Jetstar Airways carriers; and also between Japan Airlines, Vietnam Airlines and China Eastern and their respective Jetstar subsidiaries. Without approval of the the agreement, Qantas says its pan-Asian expansion will be under threat.

The carriers have never had what one would described as a close relationship, and Australian anti-competition laws forbid them from cooperating on services between Australia and Hong Kong. Slosar, denies that a Jetstar HK subsidiary will strain the carrier’s relationship with parent Qantas. His recent referral to the fact that “alliances always have certain overlaps” was certainly an attempt to smooth the waters, although Cathay’s subsequent strategic play has reinforced the limits of any relationship.

Qantas’ applies and Cathay responds

Qantas’ original application suggested that “When a LCC enters a market, all competitors (FSAs and LCCs) are forced to innovate in order to remain competitive. That is, LCCs force FSAs to re-think long standing business practices and competitive responses”. In the case of Hong Kong, why is Qantas forcing other carriers to innovate while its own “long standing business practices” remain the same?

Cathay has responded by focusing on consumer interests alluding to the anti-competitive nature of the Jetstar Qantas relationship. Questioning the necessity of Qantas and Jetstar to cooperate anymore closely, as other airlines can provide the “stimulatory effect of Low-cost Carriers (LCCs), including the competitive reaction they may elicit from Full Service Airlines (FSAs)”. There is a sense of effrontery in Qantas’ suggestion that it isn’t anti-competitive for it to operate a Jetstar subsidiary in Hong Kong, and other Asian countries, in addition to closer relations with the Jetstar group as a whole.

A320NEO range from Hong Kong. Source: Airbus

Jetstar’s fleet plan

Leveraging the opportunity to force Jetstar to reveal its long-term fleet plans and allocation of aircraft across the Jetstar group, Cathay asks, “could Jetstar Hong Kong or Jetstar Japan buy or lease planes that could reach Australia? Does the Jetstar group have, or have on order, aircraft capable of reaching Australia that could be allocated?”.

Seemingly unaware of the capabilities of the fleet of 15 787-8s (delivery from 2013), and over 70 A320NEOs (delivery from 2016/17) Jetstar has on order. Qantas asserts that “Jetstar Japan and Jetstar Hong Kong cannot offer services to or from Australia because they do not have the aircraft that is necessary to make travel over such distances economically or practically viable”. The 787-8′s 14,000km range puts all of Australia well within range, and the A320NEO is capable of reaching almost one-third of Australia including Jetstar’s Darwin hub, and Perth.

Henry Kissinger enthuses that in war “Chinese ideals have long stressed subtlety, indirection, and the patient accumulation of relative advantage”. In what is likely to become a patient contest of relative gain and long-range encirclement, Cathay has made its first very deliberate and subtle move.

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