Airline Strategy Awards 2007: The editor’s introduction

At last night’s Airline Business magazine annual Airline Strategy Awards I introduced the event with a short snapshot of some of the highlights of the past year in the business.

Here is the text of the introduction if you weren’t able to be there (here I am in full flow).

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“Looking back over the past 12 months or so since the last Awards ceremony it has, in many ways, been a momentus year.

I’ve selected a few personal highlights to remind us just how much has happened in such a short time.
Last summer David Bonderman, the head of leading private equity firm Texas Pacific, told us that things were “as good as it gets” for this business. The peak of the cycle had been reached. It was downhill from then on.

Maybe he was right, but David and many more of his peers, were still poised to pounce on an unsuspecting industry.

Qantas and Iberia have been or are tempting targets. Oh yes, and then there’s Alitalia. Now there’s a turnaround challenge for anyone – private equity or otherwise.

And the world has gone topsy-turvy. The low-fares world, bored with rampant organic growth, is buying too. And wants to tackle longer-haul markets.

In Brazil Gol buys ailing flag carrier Varig.

Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary makes an audacious bid for rival Aer Lingus.

Air Berlin chief Joachim Hunold buys German leisure player LTU.

AirAsia’s Tony Fernandes has an X-rated plan to connect Malaysia to Europe and the Middle East.

In Australia Jetstar and Virgin Blue are buying widebodies to go long-haul.

Merger and acquisition fever has infected many over the past year, especially in India, where consolidation is in the air.

Air India and Indian Airlines are becoming one.

Jet Airways has returned to its deal to buy Sahara Airways.

Kingfisher’s VJ Mallya has grabbed a stake in Air Deccan.

Elsewhere, Cathay Pacific has bought Dragonair. It only takes five words to state this fact, but all the elements that surround this deal will have a major impact in the Chinese market.

But not all approaches are well received.

In the USA, US Airways boss Doug Parker fancied a union with Delta Air Lines. He was politely rebuffed, with Delta’s Gerry Grinstein preferring to take Delta independently out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy in April.

Northwest’s Doug Steenland led his airline out of bankruptcy a month later. For the first time since December 2002 no US major is in Chapter 11.

It doesn’t take a genius to predict that the pace of deal-making will continue.

The bmi/SAS/Lufthansa love triangle will most likely be split.

Last weekend rumours surfaced that Singapore Airlines is thinking of selling its 49% stake in Virgin Atlantic.

SIA is also in talks with China Eastern.

AirTran is courting a reluctant Midwest Airlines.

And then there was the small matter of Europe and the USA signing the Transatlantic Open Skies deal – now that took many of us by surprise.

The environment has also been rocketing up the agenda, while security and fuel costs continue to weigh heavily on this business.

However this activity is taking place in a slowing industry.

2006 may indeed have been as good as it gets. But I’m sure the coming year will have its fair share of surprises, and maybe as many deals as in the past 12 months.

We hope not too many of the surprises ahead will be rude ones, but don’t bank on it.”

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