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  • OPINION: Challenges and opportunities for airlines in 2015

OPINION: Challenges and opportunities for airlines in 2015

The prospect of a visit from Michael O'Leary dressed as Santa Claus may not be everyone's idea of a perfect Christmas. But should the Ryanair boss decide on a yuletide surprise, one or two European legacy airline CEOs might be hoping he gets stuck down the chimney before having the chance to invoice the children for his delivery service.

What a great way that would be to start 2015 for the old guard, their nemesis – who is threatening to be around for at least five more years after his contract renewal – removed from the equation just as his new cuddly image was beginning to gain traction in the marketplace.

And while we're talking about new-year wishes, perhaps one or two legacy airline bosses would like a plague of aluminium-eating locusts to invade the Gulf hubs and help redress their perceived playing-field imbalance!

But on a more serious note, there are several reasons why the industry will be glad to see the back of 2014 and looking forward to a clean start in the new year.

The two Malaysia Airlines tragedies cast a dark shadow over the airline world in 2014.

The circumstances ­surrounding both losses sent shockwaves throughout the industry and raised some serious questions.

Let's hope that we find some answers in the coming year, and that the search for MH370 bears fruit.

With concerns over slowing global GDP growth and Japan now officially back in recession, the hope is that other parts of the world do not follow. An end to the Venezuelan currency crisis would also be a welcome ­development.

IATA expects its members to achieve a collective global net profit of around $18 billion in 2014. Impressive though it is, the margin is just 2.4% – so it wouldn't take too many big shocks to be back in the red.

One aspect of 2014 that airlines would like to see sustained in 2015 is the low oil price, after dramatic declines in recent months. Prices have fallen by one-third since the middle of 2014, but the soothsayers do not expect the trend to continue in the long term.

Whatever happens with oil, the industry should get some respite from any price rises in 2015 thanks to the arrival of two or three more new-generation types – the Airbus A320neo, ­A350-900 and Bombardier CSeries.

Many airlines are of course already benefiting from efficient new technology thanks to the Boeing 787. The trick will be to ensure that operators of the next three machines enjoy a smoother entry-into-service experience than the Dreamliner's early adopters. No one wants to see a repeat of the 787's woes.

The CSeries should clear more hurdles as it progresses through flight testing, and Bombardier will look to leverage that success with additional sales. While in pure number terms the 240-strong orderbook is impressive, the Canadian manufacturer will be keen to add more blue-chip airlines to its customer list.

And despite another strong sales performance in Toulouse – it racked up 1,100 orders during the first 10 months – Airbus must find more customers for the A380. Emirates chief Tim Clark would happily add to his existing 140 orders if Airbus launched the "A380neo" update, but the manufacturer appears lukewarm on the idea of committing cash to product developments until it has established a broader base for today's version.

Perhaps Turkish Airlines will finally be tempted by the A380 through some friendly persuasion from either sales boss John Leahy to place orders or Mark Lapidus to sign up for some from his Amedeo lease portfolio.

But perhaps the most anticipated aviation development in 2015 will be about something not in the air but on the ground: the decision on a new runway for London. Given that the process first began the same year that Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon, Santa will likely still need to expect 30min delays when planning his London arrivals for some time to come.

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