Asian carriers remember 2010 as their golden year: Fuel prices were moderate, LCCs were still modest in number and size, cargo was booming and the region’s economies were roaring back from the global recession. For U.S. carriers, the golden year was 2015, a blissful time of cheap oil and strong demand. And European carriers? For most of the big ones, the year they’ll remember with fondness forever? 2017.
Alright, so Europe’s 2017 wasn’t even as good as America’s 2017, let alone America’s 2015. But Europe’s market remains far more fragmented, with Lufthansa, IAG, Air France/ KLM, Ryanair and easyJet controlling just 44% of their market in ASK terms, compared to the 85% share held by the five largest U.S. airlines. But Europe’s airline sector—relative to its own history—performed better than ever last year.
And sure, there are still gnawing structural problems in Europe, beyond even the sector’s fragmentation. Taxes and airport fees are uncomfortably high. Strikes are too frequent, seasonal demand swings too drastic, governments too intrusive, subsidized rail competition too prevalent and foreign capital too readily available for rescuing carriers that might otherwise disappear. But such burdens felt substantially lighter last year, their impact diluted by a bounty of good fortune. In 2017, Europe’s economy grew at its fastest pace in years, premium and cargo demand flourished, transatlantic routes boomed, Latin American and Asian routes rebounded, security fears eased, tourism soared within the continent, tourism to neighboring regions like Turkey and Egypt recovered, threats from Gulf and Turkish carriers receded, bad fuel hedges burned off, a weaker U.S. dollar eased cost pressures, carriers made progress on labor reforms and capacity thinned with the disintegration of Air Berlin and Monarch, plus the bankruptcy of Alitalia. Furthermore, as Airports Council International notes, Europe’s airports saw their highest levels of traffic growth in 13 years.
Here, now, is a look at some other key developments unfolding in Europe’s airline sector, as it enters the new year’s second quarter:
• Europe’s Big Three produced unprecedentedly strong margins: Collectively, IAG, Lufthansa and Air France/KLM…
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