Are more airlines on the brink? A rash of closures and weak results don’t look good….

Think of what you already know. Etihad is financially weak and looking remarkably shaky for a major airline. Indeed it’s future as an independent airline looks unlikely, with Emirates looking at merging with it.

A few weeks ago a reconstituted VLM Airlines failed and ceased trading in Belgium.

In the last week Primera Air folded with spectacular speed, leaving thousands stranded from Washington DC to southern Spain.

Icelandair announced it couldn’t repay its bonds on time nor afford the interest. It’s only a year since Monarch failed.

WOW is struggling to maintain a finance stream allegedly, and Norwegian, despite cut backs is still far from completely stable.

Alitalia is on its knees and dependent on soon to expire government subsidies, AirBerlin has gone, and even the vestiges of Niki, now Laudamotion, are only surviving because RyanAir is now owner.

Swiss airline SkyWorks closed in August because of “over indebtedness”. That’s on the heels of Darwin that also vanished when Etihad pulled its financing.

In India JetAirways – another Etihad partner – is in deep water and the near broke Etihad has had to find €35 million to prop up JetAirways frequent flyer programme.

Airlines like FlyBe exist in a margin of error that can go from making small profits to catastrophic losses in a matter of weeks – all it needs is a change in fuel prices.

Yet the big airline groups seem to go from strength to strength. Groups like Lufthansa and IAG have an extraordinary capacity to recalibrate or force change at speed.

The pace of Eurowings expansion is frankly staggering, Lufthansa have poured resources into making it work. Compare that to the flop that Transavia -AF-KLM’s answer to Eurowings – has been and it’s starkly different.

IAG has carried out an extraordinary and vicious expansion of LEVEL in Vienna, having lost its legal fight to take over Niki.

Piqued by the loss, the order was given to take on the expansion of RyanAir owned Laudamotion and the huge expansion of easyJet at the airport. Ironically LEVEL leased many of the former A321’s used by Niki. Vienna is covered in LEVEL advertising, even plastered up the side of St Stevens Cathedral in sponsorship of its restoration.

It seems that even mid-sized airlines may not have the clout needed to stay the course. Only carefully managed small airlines can survive in niche market spaces.

The worlds major groups and mega airlines seem able, from size to ride out the fluctuations; but these have been the good times – what happens if things take a dive? And they will, because that’s the nature of the business and the economic cycle cannot stay up forever.

Brexit is looming like a dark and menacing shadow over the airline industry. From Europe to America airlines are wondering what happens if there is no agreement – and that prospect is looking ever more likely. You’ll start hearing things like “Bermuda-II” and “unratified open skies”, – and this week for the first time big analytical companies and consultants started to sound alarm bells. A bit late in the day.

The worst possible case is that Brexit causes a massive airline economic storm – curtailed transatlantic flights, zero European – airlines forced to refund millions they don’t have to passengers who can’t fly. Nobody wants it, but little is being done about it – it’s a hostage to a much wider Brexit negotiation.

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