ANALYSIS: Airline start-ups outpace failures in 2013

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After the high-profile airline casualties of 2012, relatively few airlines ceased operations last year as the tough financial conditions began to ease.

The collapse within a week of Spanair and Malev in the grip of the European financial crisis in early 2012 were two of the biggest of around 60 airlines to cease flights that year. By contrast, around half that number of operators failed over the last 12 months.

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Not only were there fewer airline casualties, but most were relatively small players. US freight operator Evergreen International Airlines, which was 2013’s latest casualty after filing for bankruptcy on New Year’s Eve, was one of the biggest name to cease flights during the year. The likes of Armenian carrier Armavia, German regional operator Augsburg Airways and Indonesian carrier Batavia were also among the notable casualties in 2013.

Around a third of the carriers to cease operations in 2013 were in ex-Soviet Union states and nearly half were European operators.

Alongside financial difficulties, in some cases carriers – such as the six Kazakhstan airlines grounded at the end of October – had their operating licences removed by regulators. Other units were absorbed into the parent carrier, while in some cases new operations quickly followed. For example, AirAsia Japan re-emerged as Vanilla Air after All Nippon Airways wound down its joint-venture partnership with AirAsia for the carrier.

In contrast, there were more start-ups in the last 12 months than in 2012, as various economic challenges began to lift. Of the more than 60 airline start-ups recorded in 2013 by Flightglobal, much of the activity was based around new ventures from existing carriers. These include this summer’s launch of new units at Canada’s two biggest carriers: Air Canada leisure business Rouge and WestJet’s regional arm Encore. In some cases, new units represent revamps of existing operations, such as Air France’s new regional division Hop.

A third of the new operations are based in Asia-Pacific and these represent some of the bigger operations to emerge in 2013. This in part reflects the strong growth opportunities in the region, but also expanding carriers needing to establish overseas joint-venture operations to overcome the relative lack of open skies in the region.

Few carriers were busier than Indonesian carrier Lion Air. It launched Batik Air as a full-service operator in Indonesia, while developing two overseas operations. Lion’s Malaysian venture Malindo launched in March and Thai Lion Air in December.

It means for the first time in several years last year there were more new carriers or airline units – albeit in many cases very small operations – entering service than those that failed. Airline failures have outnumbered new entrants over recent years, particularly in the aftermath of the global financial crisis in 2008 as a relatively high number of carriers collapsed when access to credit was squeezed.

More details on new airline entrants and failures are available at Flightglobal’s regularly updated Airline start-ups and failures section.