Tag Archives: Alaska Air Group

PlaneBusiness Banter Now Posted!

home-typewriter copy 1.jpg Hello everyone. No surprise that we are publishing on Wednesday night this week. Has something to do with some activity that was centered around the DFW Metromess today. Yes, there were three American Airlines‘ union votes announced today — two passed and one didn’t. And the one that didn’t was the big one.

The pilots at American Airlines decided that they would rather put their fate in the hands of U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Sean Lane than accept what many pilots apparently thought was an “unsatisfactory” contract.

As you can read in the blog post below, I thought the pilots should vote yes.

Meanwhile, the flight attendant voting period during which they need to decide if they are going to vote yes or no on their “last best and final offer” from the company continues.

As it is scheduled now, Judge Lane is supposed to rule on the airline’s request to abrogate the union contracts that have not been renegotiated next Wednesday as part of the standard Section 1113 procedure.

However, the outcome of the flight attendant vote will not be known by that time.

It will be up to the airline — whether it asks the judge to delay a ruling — or it simply allows him to abrogate the contracts that have not been agreed upon (which would then include the flight attendant contract) on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, this week is yet another big earnings week issue, as we take an in-depth look at the recent results of Spirit, Allegiant, Alaska Air Group, WestJet, and Republic Holdings.

We also give you overviews of the recent earnings news from IAG Group (owner of British Airways and Iberia), Virgin Atlantic, Lufthansa and Cathay Pacific.

Speaking of Allegiant, the airline said on its earnings call last week that it was very happy with the first month of its new service to Hawaii. The airline is using 757s to fly to Hawaii, and today, the airline announced even more service to Hawaii. Know what new routes were announced? Better yet, know which airline Allegiant seems to be targeting with their latest choices?

WestJet had an interesting announcement last week — for those of you who agree that passengers will pay for meaningful upgrades. The airline announced it was putting in four rows of “premium economy” seats on all of its 737s. It is also adding seats to its 737-800s.

Meanwhile, Spirit just keeps making money. Although I think the airline showed evidence of some growing pains in the second quarter — as costs were above where the airline wants them to be.

In terms of Republic Holdings, the hybrid holding company did quite well, as the Frontier Airlines’ restructuring process is really beginning to shine. So now what?

Meanwhile Republic continues to work through its issues with its Chautauqua, aka Chicken Taco, operation. Republic remains convinced it can make the 50 seat aircraft work –but it is going to have to be flown at exceptionally low rates to mainline airlines if that is the case.

While we don’t do a full earnings review of SkyWest this week, as they reported earnings today, I will tell you that the airline blew away estimates — sending shares of the stock up 23% on the day.

As always, all this, and more — in this week’s issue of PlaneBusiness Banter.

Also — a friendly reminder for our subscribers. This is our last issue for August. We are now officially on vacation. Our next issue will be published after Labor Day!

PlaneBusiness Banter is Now Posted!

home-typewriter copy 1.jpg

Good evening Earthlings.

This week’s issue of PlaneBusiness Banter is now posted.

The last week has been brutal. I’m not kidding. First, we had two airlines report earnings last week, and we have the full review of the earnings call this week from Southwest Airlines and Alaska Air Group.

Our short take? Alaska turned in a respectable quarter — especially considering the airline used to simply assume it would post a loss in the first quarter. Not anymore.

This was also Alaska CEO Bill Ayer’s last earnings call. Ayer, one of the best CEOs in the business — will remain as Chairman. Should investors be worried about this change at the top of one of the most well-run (and profitable) U.S. airlines? No. I’ll tell you why.

As for Southwest, the airline has us totally confused.

It keeps pushing back dates for various merger-related integrations with AirTran. That we get. The airline clearly, as many of us said at the time the deal was announced, did not and still does not have the technology underfoot to make this deal work.

That includes the technology necessary to enable Southwest to fly internationally. Or to merge fully with AirTran. And then there are the fees that AirTran charges as part of their operation. An operation that, in a number of ways, performed better than Southwest in the first quarter.

Now they say they are going to keep all fees that are currently a part of the AirTran model in place. For at least 2-3 years.

Say what?

So now the “we’re going to migrate the AirTran operation into that of Southwest as quickly as possible” mantra has changed.

But why? The airline could switch off the fees at AirTran overnight.

Could it be Southwest is finally beginning to understand the value of “the upsell?”

No. Otherwise they wouldn’t be putting more seats in its 737-700s.

See what I mean about confusing?

About the best news out of Denton Drive last week was the news that the airline has finally made a decision about upgrading at least some of its IT incapability.

The airline announced it was going with Amadeus — and will use that company’s res product to enable it to start international operations. But not until 2014.

(Actually I think we’ll see Amadeus take both the international and the domestic PSS projects on at Southwest before this is all over.)

But clearly the major news last week was the announcement Friday that the three major unions at American Airlines had signed term sheets with US Airways — in effect telling management at AMR they want no part of a standalone airline — and pretty much throwing out a vote of “No Confidence” towards the current AMR management.

Needless to say, the fact the pilots did this pretty much confirms what we had said here last week — that the “Hale Memo” was a farce. Clearly Mr. Hale just signed his name to something that had no truth attached to it whatsoever.

And then the powers that be at AMR wonder why it is that their employees don’t trust them. Funny how that works.

We talk a lot about what happened last week, tell you what you can expect to see happen in the next weeks and months, and why you shouldn’t think that things have stopped happening just because they aren’t happening in public.

No question about it — the actions of the three union leaders and their boards last week was amazing. Something we’ve certainly never seen in this industry before.

No surprise — shares of US Airways climbed sharply last week on the news of the union agreements.

In addition, did you hear about the lawsuit that AIG, parent of ILFC has filed against Steve Hazy, the founder of ILFC, and currently the CEO of Air Lease Corp.?

The really bizarre part of the story — all the major players were in New York at the Plaza Hotel for the Air Finance Conference this week when the news hit.

I would think that might have made things just a tad uncomfortable.

As always, we have all of this and more — in this week’s issue of PlaneBusiness Banter.

PlaneBusiness Banter Now Posted!

home-typewriter copy 1.jpg

Hello all.

Live and direct from the PlaneBusiness Worldwide Steaming Hot Headquarters, we bring you a 150 plus-page issue of PlaneBusiness Banter.

Yes, this is, without a doubt, the mother of all earnings issues.

We have full transcripts and PlaneBusiness Banter earnings summaries for Southwest Airlines, AirTran, JetBlue, Alaska Air Group and Allegiant Travel this week.

Not only that but we give you the numbers that were just reported from Air France/KLM, Lufthansa, British Airways, ANA and Singapore Airlines.


All of this plus our take on the more “newsworthy” topics from the past week including the meltdown at Mexicana (and no, we’re not talking about the FAA’s downgrade of the Mexican aviation safety rating) and the showdown between the pilots and management at Philippine Airlines.

So what do you think? Do you think the pilots and flight attendants at Mexicana should have taken up management’s offer to buy the airline?

Or — should they have cut their pay and benefits essentially in half?

As we were posting this issue, the news came down: Mexicana has filed for bankruptcy.

One thing that will do — it will stop airline leasing companies from taking their aircraft back. Apparently at least three of the airline’s aircraft had already been snatched back by their owners.

Aside from all this turmoil, we then have the latest attempt by the U.S. government to “make the airline industry a better and safer place.”

Yes, from the same folks who brought us the Three-Hour Tarmac rule, the Senate and the House passed a bill last week that will see the minimum number of flight hours required for a regional airline pilot position jump to 1500.

Needless to say, I can understand why members of Congress want to look like they are making the industry a safer place — but is a 1500 hour flight time minimum the way to do it?

One of our regular contributors gives us his take on the potential ramifications of this legislation in this week’s issue.

One thing that is a constant in this industry is that it always has a lot of debt.

But while most of the airline’s debt ratings are in the “junk” category, shrewd investors know that investing in airline debt can be quite profitable.

This week I assemble the latest credit and debt comments on the major airlines from Mark Streeter — the man who does this for a living for JPMorgan Chase. I think Mark is the sharpest guy on the Street when it comes to airline debt.

As for airline stocks — a Foreign Flyer took the first place nod last week in terms of gains. Overall, it was a good strong week for the sector.

All of this — and much, much, more in this week’s issue of PlaneBusiness Banter.

Subscribers can access this week’s issue here.

Virgin America: Now It’s Not Just Us Questioning the Airline’s Financial Viability


Monday the Bureau of Transportation Statistics of the DOT issued the latest Form 41 data for the industry. The information covered the fourth quarter 2008 numbers.

Needless to say, for airline geek types, the release of Form 41 data is like a huge box of goodies, all wrapped up with a nice big bow. The only problem is — you have to take the time to get in the box and carefully unwrap all the nuggets.

This morning analyst Gary Chase with Barclays issued a research note on Virgin America’s financial situation — a note that was clearly based on Gary and fellow analyst Dave Fintzen’s careful unwrapping of the Virgin America nuggets.

But wait — Gary doesn’t even cover Virgin America. The airline is not publicly traded.

Oh, but he does cover airlines that are currently affected by the airline’s presence. Most notably JetBlue and Alaska Air Group. Of all the major airlines Virgin overlaps about 25% of JetBlue’s capacity, while it overlaps about 17% of Alaska’s.

In his note this morning, Gary noted that while Virgin has been in the news a good deal lately because of questions concerning its ownership structure — “we cannot know the details of the company’s ownership structure.” But Gary and company can, and did, analyze the airline’s operating performance for the fourth quarter as reported to the DOT.

The verdict?

“The airline is now beyond the point in its development where JBLU turned profitable; Virgin America’s results would show losses in late 2008 even at sub-$1.00 fuel prices.

DOT filings point to substantial losses that go well beyond high fuel prices.  We estimate that to break even in 2009 (similar to the rest of the industry on an un-hedged basis), the airline would need to drive significant improvement in revenue or cost performance, or both.  For example, one path to break-even would be to achieve a roughly 20% higher unit passenger revenue (in an environment where industry RASM is declining by nearly 10%) and reduce non-fuel costs by almost 10% while fuel prices remain at the $1.49 level.”

He continued, “Virgin America’s premium strategy, including its First Class and Main Cabin Select products, does not appear to be generating a meaningful revenue premium.  Rather, unit revenue performance lags JBLU and the industry at-large.  Virgin America’s unit revenue performance has shown relative improvement as the airline spools-up, but still lags a typical new JBLU markets despite having a first class option and fewer seats on an equivalent aircraft (which should translate into both higher RASM and CASM).  While Virgin America has found some relative success in short-haul West Coast markets, revenue performance in Transcon and longer-haul West Coast (i.e. Seattle) lags the industry by a wide margin.”

In addition, Gary said, “The premium strategy likely contributes to the airline’s relative cost problem, with non-fuel unit costs that are 40% higher than JBLU today and ~30% higher than JBLU at the same point in its life cycle.  Unit cost tends to improve dramatically during the first year of an airline’s operations, but Virgin America is now beyond the point where JBLU’s cost structure stabilized.  The cost structure remains significantly higher than JBLU, not to mention other low-fare airlines.”   

In typical carefully worded “analyst-speak” he concludes: “We believe the Virgin situation represents a potential opportunity for the industry generally, but for JBLU and ALK in particular.  Even if the press surrounding the ownership structure proves inaccurate, operating losses could also prompt a move away from its Transcon and long-haul West Coast routes, where performance has been the weakest.”

So how bad were the numbers themselves?

Virgin America’s recent DOT filings show the airline posted significant losses through its first year of operations. In total, the airline posted a 2008 pre-tax loss of ~$207mm on revenue of ~$370mm, for a pre-tax margin of negative 56%. While margins did improve, DOT reports show 4Q08 pre-tax margin was a negative 29% with a pre-tax loss of $32 million.

Now, is there anyone out there who still wonders why it was that Virgin America fought for so long to keep from reporting its results to the DOT?

I didn’t think so.


Virgin UnAmerica(n)


Today the Wall Street Journal ran a story which seems to confirm what we had assumed was going to happen, as we had discussed in PlaneBusiness Banter a number of times over the last several months.

The two “U.S.” firms that invested in Richard Branson’s Virgin America operation have apparently taken advantage of the fine print in their investing agreement with the airline and headed for the hills.

These investors controlled 77% of the airline.

Since U.S. carriers must be at least 75% owned and controlled by U.S. investors, this departure would seem to place Virgin America’s status as a US-owned carrier in jeopardy. Unless the airline has somehow been able to find other U.S. based investors to fill the void. But as far as we have heard, that has not happened.

Word on the street for the last several months has been that Black Canyon Capital and Cyrus Capital Partners were going to pull the trigger on their investment. Heck, in my opinion they would have been crazy not to. The two negotiated a sweet “out clause” when they put money into the venture.

By pulling the plug now, the two were entitled to receive all of their original investment back, plus 8% interest, amounting to roughly $150 million combined between the two.

Not bad, considering the airline the two “invested in” has done nothing but lose hundreds of millions of dollars since its start-up — a fact the airline couldn’t hide any longer after it was finally forced to submit its Form 41 DOT data to the DOT recently.

A normal person could conclude that if, in fact, Black Canyon and Cyrus have exited the mood-lighted building, Virgin America would now either a) have new investors already lined up or b) be in violation of DOT ownership requirements.

It is important to note that Virgin has not issued a statement or release trumpeting the corralling of any additional U.S. investors.

One would think that the airline would have been out in front of this — announcing new money — as a way to deflect talk of its being in violation of DOT ownership regulations or of being in danger of a possible shutdown.

But they have been noticeably mute.

Which is exactly why we are talking today about how it would appear the airline is, just as Alaska Air Group claimed in a recent complaint to the DOT, not in compliance with the DOT foreign ownership rules, and two, yes, this means the airline is in danger of being shut down.

Airline Stocks Tumble as It’s One Messy Day On the Street


Poking our head around the damage from today’s Wall Street activities, it was not a good day for the airline stocks, as almost every one of them ended lower for the day.

While the Dow Jones Industrials were down as much as 200 points earlier in the day, the Dow ended the day down 80.05 points, or 1.09% for the day.

However, the Dow Transports and the AMEX Airline Index both had a more miserable run of it. The AMEX Airline Index ended the day down a little more than 4%, closing at 16.43, while the Dow Jones Transportation Index ended down 4%, closing at 2602.06.

The top losers for the day included: AirTran, which lost 9%, closing at 3.27; Alaska, which lost 7%, closing at 22.27; JetBlue which lost 7%, closing at 4.26; US Airways, which lost 10%, closing at 3.30; Southwest Airlines, which dropped another 7%, closing at 6.07; and Continental, which ended the day down 6%, closing at 11.15.

Ugly day.