Tag Archives: airline costs

PlaneBusiness Banter Now Posted

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This week’s mega-earnings issue of PlaneBusiness Banter is now posted. I think this one has set a new record at around 100 pages. Hey, I like to give you lots to think about.

This week I look at five airlines that recently reported second quarter earnings in-depth: AirTran; Alaska Air Group; Delta Air Lines; United Airlines; and JetBlue.

We also have earnings summaries now posted for ExpressJet, Republic Holdings, and Hawaiian Airlines on the site for PBB subscribers.

So what did we like or didn’t like about the earnings from this crop of airlines?

It was nice to have three honest-to-god profits to talk about this week. AirTran had an excellent quarter, Alaska was no slouch either, and JetBlue also had a nice quarter — although their profits were not as hefty as those posted by either AirTran or Alaska.

Then there is Delta. The airline continues to slog through some very costly underwater fuel hedges. And of course the airline is being hit hard on the international front as demand has simply gone into hiding for not only Delta but all the U.S. carriers who fly internationally.

And then there is United Airlines. CFO Kathryn Mikells was hammered in the airline’s call about the “L” word — yes, that would be liquidity.

But she retained her poise and kept telling those analysts that they were asking “terrific” questions.

Meanwhile, down in Atlanta, Delta’s Richard Anderson was called out by yours truly for his excessive use of corporate speak. And if I hear the word “synergy” one more time, I’m going to go stark raving mad.

But of course, the big news of last week was the news that Southwest Airlines had made a bid on Frontier Airlines — as part of that airline’s bankruptcy auction process.

Southwest is now burning the midnight oil, doing their due diligence, as final bids need to be in the hands of the court by Aug. 10. (Yes, look at your calendar. That’s next Monday.)

All this and much, much more, including details on the $1 billion cobbled-together financing deal that Air Canada announced this week — The Patron Saint of Failing Airlines Lives! (We are referring of course to GECAS)

All that and more in this week’s issue of PlaneBusiness Banter. Subscribers can access your issue here.

Here’s Official Ammunition: Airline Hubs Have Lost Their Cost Advantage In Terms of Airline Profitability


“In 1999, there was evidence of scale economies for connecting flights. Conditioning on other variables, the marginal cost of serving a connecting passenger on a long route was $18 less than that of a direct passenger, or roughly 12 percent of the average marginal cost.

The cost advantage of connecting flights disappeared in 2006. Conditioning on other cost shifters, the marginal cost of a connecting flight was $12 more expensive than that of a direct flight. The change is probably driven by the increasing fuel cost in the sample period. Since the fraction of fuel consumed at the takeoffs and landings could be as high as 40 percent, rising fuel costs offset the benefit of denser traffic created by connecting flights.”

So says researchers Steven Berry at Yale and Panle Jia at M.I.T.

In a new working paper the two have published entitled, “Tracing the Woes: An Empirical Analysis of the Airline Industry, ” they confirm that it used to be cheaper for an airline to place a passenger on a connecting flight — rather than a direct one. But by 2006, that advantage had gone away. Why? One simple answer: the increasing cost of fuel.

According to the two researchers, “Channeling passengers through a hub airport allows carriers to increase the load factor. But it also requires extra fuel, both for the two extra landings and the longer distances passengers have to travel. The authors estimate that in 1999, the marginal cost of servicing a connecting passenger on a long route was $18, or about 12 percent, lower than that of servicing a direct passenger. That cost advantage disappeared in 2006, probably because fuel was more expensive. In 2006, servicing a connecting passenger cost $12 more and reported inflation-adjusted operating costs increased from 11.4 cents per available seat mile to 12.5 cents.”

The authors estimate that by 2006 the legacy airlines were transporting 4 percent more passengers with 9 percent less revenue and 19 percent less in profit than in 1996. And, despite the bankruptcies and mergers in the early 2000s and the sharp downturn that followed 9/11, the average revenue-passenger-miles divided by the available-seat-miles of a flight, known as the load factor, rose from 71.2 percent to 79.7 percent from 1999 to 2006. It reached a record high of 80.5 percent in 2007.

There is a summary of the paper available for free here. The entire work is available for $5. Spend the money and buy it. It is well worth the read.