The unique Equity Alliance strategy followed by Etihad Airways CEO Mr. James Hogan is really taking off as Etihad Airways has just signed a $US 2.4 billion deal to buy 49% of Italy’s struggling Alitalia, and in one move Etihad gains access to Europe’s 4th biggest market. Hats off to James Hogan for the creative strategic thinking and leadership, I find very few global airline leaders today with innovative strategic growth ideas, that break the shackles of old thinking.
Etihad Airways celebrated its 10th anniversary in November , 2013 and that month ordered 199 aircraft and 294 engines worth $US 67 billion showing to the world it intends to be a major global player. Since September 2006 its CEO James Hogan has meticulously led the new airline from revenues of only $300m in 2005 to $6.1 billion in 2013 with 102 aircraft serving 120 destinations, and it growing monthly. The Equity Alliance strategy now has 8 partners and combined with its growing list of 47 code sharing partners, the airline now offers 400+ destinations in 80+ countries and is slowly catching up to Qatar Airways and Emirates Airlines, slowly but surely, as almost a quarter of its revenue this year can be contributed to having its partners.
I am delighted to see it all working and the fact that James Hogan is getting the recognition from his peers that he deserves, whatever one thinks of the Equity Alliance strategy, it is working for the airline as 2013 was a very successful year for the airline.
BUT it does have huge challenges with Alitalia, Jet Airways, Air Berlin and Virgin Australia as those airlines are in financial trouble. But I have confidence in the leadership of Etihad and these partners to change things around in time, the acquisition of the frequent flier programs (FFP) is huge, while Etihad has around 2.5m members in Etihad Guest FFP, by adding Air Berlin’s Privelege FFP, Air Berlin’s Top Bonus FFP, and Aliatlia’s MileMiglia FFP, Etihad now has over 22m FFP members with it’s Equaity Alliance, and a whole lot of feed potential at both ends of the O&D network.
While good news on the surface, there is no hiding the fact Alitalia is a very troubled airline with a very poor corporate culture of strikes and open conflict with management by unions. Hopefully the unions will see this as a ‘miracle’ that someone would even touch Alitalia, for without this deal, Alitalia was destined for closure and thousands of jobs would be gone.
There is some similarity between this Equity Alliance strategy of Etihad Airways and the infamous “Hunter Strategy” pursued by Swissair in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, which ultimately killed a global brand airline. A quick overview of that ‘stupid’ strategy is in order. Swissair wanted to be a major player in Europe in the 1990’s and tried to merge with the likes of Lufthansa, British Airways and Air France, but was turned down.
Cross equity is not new, up until recently Singapore Airlines (SIA) owned 49% of Virgina Atlantic, until it could not wait to sell it, and Delta bought the 49% in 2013 for $360m a big loss for SIA, also many years before that Delta (DL) and Singapore Airlines (SIA) had a small 2% share share in each other, before alliances came around, but it faded after several years, then we had SAS take 17% of Continental Airline in 1988 and having lost $100+m it did not go anywhere further. So its been done, and is being done today by several LCC’s in Asia, but that strategy is showing cracks (ie.Tigerair).
With the ‘help’ of management consulting firm McKinsey & Co., Swissair’s CEO Philippe Bruggisser was convinced that he can grow the company through acquisitions instead of joining the global alliances. This crazy scheme took Swissair on an acquisition spree the industry has never seen before and hopefully never will. The airline ended up acquiring small to 49% equity stakes in the following airlines:
- Air Europe (Italy)
- Sabena (Belgium)
- Air Liberte (France)
- AOM (France)
- Air Littoral (France)
- Volare (Italy)
- Turkish THY (Turkey)
- South African Airlines (SAA)
- Portugalia (Portugal)
- LTU (Germany)
As well it had plans to take further stakes in Malev (Hungary), Finnair (Finland), Aer Lingus (Ireland), TAM (Brazil), Transbrasil (Brazil) and Alitalia (Italy), just management gone wild !
Swissair always knew it was based in a small country and that it needed to merge with someone, after many failed attempts to merge with LH, AF and BA in the 1990’s, it decided to acquire equity holdings in 10 European airlines under its “Hunter Strategy”, but it tried to manage the airlines itself, and slowly the strategy started to go wrong and the terrorist attack of Sept 11, 2001 on NY was the last straw, the airline’s poorly conceived, implemented and managed strategy ruined one of Europe’s great airlines. Some compare Etihad Airways Equity Partner strategy to the Swissair strategy of the late 1990’s, but it is not a good comparison at all, surely Etihad has studied the mistakes of Swissair and learned from them, again know your industry’s history and you will learn from others mistakes, or you will repat them, and trust me in this industry I have seen the mistakes over and over again, usually over expansion through acquisitions.
The holdings were through SAair Group, but it was unmanageable and clearly it under estimated the difficulties in acquisition, investment, integration, code sharing, synergies, execution, communication, etc. The set up of Qualifier group had Swissair at the core, leading but it was too small to undertake that and the $1+ billion invested in equity was too much for Swissair.
The final blow came with the Sept 11, 2001 terrorist attack in NY, and Swissair aircraft were grounded October 2, 2011 but some flights continued till the end of March, 2002 with financial support from the Swiss Federal Government, it was a major airline disaster, that to me never made sense from the beginning, it was management gone wild ! no sense of reality, a very sad event for sure.
Etihad’s CEO James Hogan goes out of his way this is not the case with the Equity Alliance strategy, this is no ‘empire building’. Where Swissair took control and micro managed the acquisitions, James Hogan insists Etihad puts in management teams who report to a Board, where Etihad has some representation, but the individual CEO’s are responsible for day to day business operations. This is the big difference to Swissair, local day to day management so that Etihad’s own management is not distracted by what is happening with its partners, a very good point indeed.
This is not the 1st airline James Hogan has ‘rescued’, but it is not about the rescue but about having solid partners in key markets that will provide future traffic for Etihad’s growth strategy, with a quarter of Etihad revenue this year coming from passenger revenues to partner airlines, one sees what the the potential will be when all partners are ‘normalized’. Etihad has the resources to undertake this strategy, unlike Swissair and its shareholders have the capital to make it happen, though the goal is for all partners to be self sufficient profit centers in the medium run. This strategy will help Etihad have traffic at both ends of its vast network, and in those local markets at the end of the network they will have more recognizable brands to feed Etihad’s long haul flights (ie. Germany/Italy to India/Australia and vis-a-versa), its a win-win situation, Equity Alliance partners win and Etihad wins.
The end game is to have a network of Equity Alliance partners all over the globe with code sharing between partners for seamless travel, common frequent flier programs, joint purchasing for economies of scale savings on training, aircraft, maintenance, fuel, insurance, catering, airport service fees, etc. Once the whole thing is up and running, it will be a big Alliance joined an equity alliance not by necessity that has a real base for sustainability, where airlines don’t come and go and a common bond and place for each carrier, from tiny Air Seycehlles to a large Jet Airways dominating the Indian market once again.
The day will come when the old bilateral system will be history and airlines will be treated like any other industry with the freedom to buy who they wish and serve where they want, that is still years away, but the system is showing cracks today. The Middle East is open for business, soon Asia will follow as surely the big 3 Chinese airlines will dominate there as the big 3 Middle East airlines dominate in their markets.
The strategy is being recognized for its boldness at a time when many airlines are struggling to find the right strategy for the future, as the industry is changing with the global aviation ‘center’ shifting’ to the Middle East where you have 3 big players today (Etihad Airways, Qatar Airways and Emirates Airlines) all competing through their large yet close hubs of Abu Dhabi, Doha and Dubai, while each airline is pursuing a different growth strategy (ie. Qatar Airways has joined One World) while the other two are staying out of the global alliances game.
Alitalia, what can you say about an airline that has rarely made money ? the Italian market is huge and worth the $2.4 billion Etihad Airways is investing, IF the unions work with the airline and not fight it., they have to fend of the big LCC (low cost carriers) (ie. Vueling, EasyJet and Ryanair) that swooped in when it looked like Alitalia was finally going to die. You can bet that Lufthansa will complain about this acquisition, but they need to understand the big 3 Middle East airlines (Etihad, Qatar and Emirates) are here to stay, growing by the month and have brought in some new ideas to the business, changing the business model and looking at new ways to compete.
As James Hogan said “there is no quick fix” the restructuring will take time, and begin with the finances where Etihad will invest $762m into Alitalia and existing investors will provide $408m capital increase with Italian banks kicking in the same $408m in new loans, this will provide Alitalia with roughly $1.68 billion in badly needed new capital.
The $762m investment covers $527m for the 49% equity stake, $153m for a 75% interest in Alitalia’s frequent flier program and $82m for 5 takeoff and landing slots and slot restricted Heathrow Airport in London (Departures at 0645, 0725, 1625 and 2000 and Arrivals at 1520, 1800, 1910 and 2305).
As well, $813m in short and medium term debt will be restructured, and along with operational restructuring, the airline ‘may’ be profitable by 2017, though a lot depends on the unions cooperating with the changes and not fighting them.
Alitalia has gone into bankruptcy before in 2008 and surely would have done so again had this deal failed, the airline is a shell of its former self, poor management, disastrous labor relations have brought it to its knees. Etihad demanded and got employee reductions with 2,250 staff laid off (20% of total) and surely more will have to go ( as it still would leave roughly 100 employees per aircraft – too many in my opinion), Etihad is in a strong position to make change, that was not the story last year when AF/KLM refused to take part in the rescue of Alitalia as they could not get the staff cuts and debt reductions they wanted, and let their ownership drop to 7% from 25%.
Now Etihad will have access to the big Italian market, the 4th biggest in Europe and surely access to more transatlantic markets for Etihad through Italy, 5th freedom rights would allow Etihad to fly passengers from Abu Dhabi to Milan and then on wards to New York for example which enhances the economic viability of the route, but would be seen by AF/KLM and LH as unfair to their 3rd and 4th freedoms, but Etihad would have to get both Italian and US approval, and you can bet DL would be aggressively against it. So it will get interesting, Etihad could go for 7th freedom, flying between 2 foreign countries and no continuing service to home country, BUT that is year’s away, right now its about feeding Etihad’s long haul flights.
So now wonder, the emphasis will be on long haul expansion at Alitalia, where its current fleet of 112 aircraft (22 long haul and 90 short haul) will be reduced to 107 (29 long haul and 78 short haul), a big reduction in short haul where it competes too heavily with trains, EasyJet, Ryanair and Vueling, makes sense, as it does have the unit costs to compete with the LCC, it has a EUR 152 cost per passenger carried, vs EUR 50 at Rynair, EUR 75 at EasyJet on slightly lower stage lengths though. The strategy is to leverage the long haul routes off course, to the complaints by LH, AF and KLM for sure and the European Commission will have to investigate
Etihad Airways embarked on the Equity Alliance to create partners, to date there are 8 partners and 6 of them were desperate for a ‘white knight’ to rescue them with a capital injection, as they were in serious financial difficulties, and for many airlines today, Etihad Airways is seen as the ‘rescuer’ of troubled airlines, the requests keep coming to Abu Dhabi from troubled airlines from around the world.
Etihad credits this Equity Alliance strategy for the company’s 48 per cent increase in profits last year to S$62m. Sales grew 27 per cent to $6.1 billion. Partnership revenues rose 30 per cent to $820m, representing 21 per cent of passenger revenues, so clearly it is working so far, but some of the ‘troubled’ airlines will require more than just medicine, they need major surgery (ie. Air Berlin, Jet Airways, Virgin Australia and now Alitalia), it’s a risky strategy, with huge payoffs but will need money, leadership and nerves of steel.
Now, Etihad looks for 3 key criteria when looking at an equity investment in an airline :
- Do the two networks match and how much ?
- Does the deal bring scale or reorganization opportunity ?
- Does the airline have a good management team in place ? (I have to question this one, as from my experience I believe the vast majority of airlines in trouble are there due to poor management, not dealing with internal issues or external issues in the proper way early enough, denial eventually turns to reality and its usually too late, many cases are due to growing too quickly usually through acquisitions like Air Berlin).
With existing partners, Etihad Airways now has 400+ destinations and the existing partners and Etihad’s ownership share are :
- Air Berlin (Germany) 29.2%
- Air Seychelles (Seychelles) 40%
- Jet Airways (India) 24%
- Air Serbia (Serbia) 49% (ex-JAT)
- Alitalia (Italy) 49%
- Virgin Australia (Australia) 21.24%
- Aer Lingus (Ireland) 4.99%
- Etihad Regional (Switzerland) 33.3% (ex-Darwin Airlines, the 1st regional airline)
Air Seychelles lost $25m in 2011, brought Etihad Airways as a 40% partner for a $20m investment and a $25m loan and by 2012 it had a $1m profit, and a $3m profit in 2013. The restructuring was led by one of Etihad’s high flying executives Cramer Ball who was CEO of Air Seychelles until early this year, and he is now CEO of Jet Airways in India, another Etihad equity partner (24%), and here Cramer Ball will need all the help he can get, because India’s aviation sector is a mess, and outside of IndiGO its red ink everywhere, including Jet Airways, which will require massive amount of money from Etihad Airways to get out of its financial crisis.
Now some of the equity alliances have turned it around, once struggling Air Seychelles ($25m loss in 2011) has turned it around under CEO Cramer Ball by changing the fleet from B767’s and B737’s to A330 and A320, changing the focus on Abu Dhabi, Hong Kong and Johannesburg, 40%of the airline was sold in 2012 for $20m investment and a $25m loan. Now after 3 years the airline is returning to its biggest market France, by flying to CDG in Paris (through Abu Dhabi) with its A330-200, and in 2013 the airline posted a $3m profit, following a $1m profit in 2012, a quick turnaround based on some basic changes to the strategy, fleet, network and new partnerships with Air Berlin, Cathay Pacific, CSA Czech Airlines and South African Airways (SAA).
The airline is running 2 x A330’s, 6 x DHC-6 Twin Otters and 1 x SD360-300 (converted to freighter recently) and the wet leased A320 (from Etihad) is coming this month, with more possibly as the network is expanded and code share agreements are put in place with Air Austral (Reuinion) and Air Madagascar in the coming weeks.
Great job, and now Cramer Ball is CEO at Jet Airways in India, where that turnaround will be longer, harder and much more complicated, he has been replaced by former Etihad VP and recently ex-SAA VP, Manoj Papa to continue to introduce changes, like adding the A319 this year for flights to the ‘vanilla’ islands (Madagascar, Mauritius, Reunion) and Mumbai, India.
The turnaround at Air Berlin is more of a struggle, 2013 was the fourth year in a row of mounting losses and has wiped out Air Berlin’s book equity which at the end of 2013 stood at a minus (-) EUR 186m ($253m +/-). You cannot keep going for too long when your RASK is 7.24 EUR cents and your CASK is 7.75 EUR cents and your load factor is a very high 84.8% and your CASK is increasing faster than your RASK.
Air Berlin has lost around EUR 920m ($1.25b) since 2008 and got into trouble like so many airlines growing externally, bought NIKI, LTU, Belair and Condor and got indigestion, if it were not for Etihad Airways, it would be bankrupt. Its restructuring program “Turbine” has not gone far enough, it is still in trouble and Etihad is forced to keep bail it out each year, but for how long ? Time for serious cuts and cancellation of some of the 50+ aircraft due in the next 4 years. James Hogan has confidence in Air Berlin’s management, I don’t as its taken too long with little to show, even in 2013 RASK was less than CASK still and even with a 84.8% load factor !
Air Berlin’s ‘Turbine” cost restructuring program is working but not well enough, and the the airline needs money again this year from Etihad which is providing EUR 300m in sash in the cumulative perpetual subordinated convertible bond, which to me means it will have the right to take its stake up to maximum 49% when it wants. Also, a EUR 150m new corporate bond issue will raise capital for the airline sometime this year.
Etihad already owns 29.2 per cent of the German airline. If it were to cross the 30 per cent threshold, it would, under German regulations, have to make an offer to other shareholders at the average stock price for the past 90 days.
However, if Air Berlin were to go private, then Etihad could lift its stake to 49.9 per cent before it confronted the next regulatory hurdle. BUT, having a majority in Air Berlin could mean giving up some landing rights at European airports to carriers with majority European ownership.
With 52 aircraft due before the end of 2018 the airline needs to get its business in order very fast. The restructuring underway has NOT been deep and tough enough to get Air Berlin out of its mess, it is burning cash, around EUR 200m in operating cash flow and without Etihad Airways, the airline would be bankrupt today.
The investment in Air Berlin is paying off slowly, from the commercial side the joint revenues from their code sharing has exceed EUR 200m and through group deals/procurement of aircraft, maintenance, engines, catering and technology the cost base is lowered for both carriers.
In short, Etihad Airways CEO James Hogan puts it this way “for less than the cost of a single wide body aircraft, Etihad has gained access to more than 30 million passengers and a combined European network of 228 destinations and 84 countries” good point, but investment is over EUR 800m ($1.08 billion), and with investments needed in turning around Alitalia and India’s Jet Airways, openly 2 very poor performing airlines, Etihad will have lots of work on its hands and need lots of money to restructure those airlines around.
Jet Airways is in such financial trouble, that I can’t even find some numbers, even James Hogan is not revealing the severity of that crisis, I think Jet Airways CEO Cramer Ball is going to wish he stayed in the Seychelles, I would ! The problems in India are in many cases outside of the control of the airline, government taxes, infrastructure, regulations, etc. that have destroyed airline shareholder value for years as the industry struggles to achieve profitability, the new government may change that.
Jet Airways is a major airline in India, with 113+ aircraft (12 x A330’s, 19 x ATR-72’s, 74 x B737-700/800/900’s and 10 x B777-300ER’s and 75 aircraft on order including 10 B787-9’s. Set up by Naresh Goyal the airline has grown from 4 B737-300’s in 1993 and just kept growing after 1995 when it was allowed to fly scheduled services. In 2007 it bought out Air Sahara and by 2009 it launched its low cost Jet Konnect and by 2012 it was the market leader in India, with 22.6 market share.
Things started to go bad in India, Kingfisher Airlines went bust, fare wars brought airlines to their knees and it became clear that no one was making money in India, and things had to change. The government knew it had to bring in foreign invetsment into the sector and raised foreign ownership to 49% in 2012 and in April 2013 Jet Airways agreed to sell 24% to Etihad for $379m many delays later the deal was done in January, 2014 finally as surely Jet Airways was in big trouble.
How much Etihad has put in on top of its $379m is not known, but I am sure by now it is at least double that if not $1.0 billion by year’s end. It is just been announced that Jet Airways will discontinue with JetKonnect and JetLite and become a full service airline, the 3rd in India after Air India and new up-start Vistara (with SIA as partner).
India is a huge market, and like with Air Berlin and Alitalia, once they get these airlines ‘settled’ and operating efficiently and profitably, it will be a huge coup for Etihad Airways and its Equity Alliance Strategy. But let’s not overlook that Air Berlin is still struggling and needing cash to survive, Alitalia will need more than $2.4 billion and Jet Airways well, another $1 billion would not be out of the question, and all 3 will need to curtail their fleet expansion plans for now, reschedule debt and undertake more cost cutting then any of the 3 have done till now.
At Jet Airways CEO Cramer Ball will have to re-examine the network, Brussels hub, 15,000+ employees ? (for 100 aircraft = 150 employees per aircraft ! NUTS), fleet, strategy and code shares. So the next 3 years these 3 big Etihad partners will require substantial support to keep them afloat as they restructure for a brighter future, and then Etihad Airways will start to to dominate in the Gulf, slowly but surely.
With Air Seychelles in the black and Air Serbia coming around with the introduction of new routes and A320’s it is on a path to profitability for 2016, the others will all need capital to keep them going, except Aer Lingus, while Etihad has only 4% and one wonders what it is eyeing there. Under CEO Christoph Mueller, Aer Lingus has improved, operating profit for the 1st half of this year is EUR 67.8m and you know they face serious competition from Ryanair.
Ryanair presently owns 29.8% of Aer Lingus and has attempted 3 times in the past 8 years to take it over, now the UK Competition Appeal Tribunal ruled that Ryanair must lower its shareholding in Aer Lingus to 5%, citing the shareholding gave “Ryanair material influence over Aer Lingus”. I could be that eventually Etihad Airways could go for the 25.1% owned by the Irish Government, but shall have to wait and see what happens there.
Etihad Airways has 4.9% of the equity in Aer Lingus, The Government has 25.1% and Ryanair has 29.8% but has been ordered to reduce it to 5%, which I do not agree with, that is competition and capitalism at work, but while I cannot find any mention or reason why Etihad invested in Aer Lingus, I can see them possibly taking the Government share or the returned shares held by Ryanair. The airline is doing well today, EUR 67.8m operating profit in 1st half of 2014, CEO Christoph Mueller has done a great job there, and the only issue like with Alitalia is the union problem, too many strikes have cost the airline dearly over the past 20 years. The CORE cost cutting program is working and Aer Lingus is in the best shape in years.
The other 3 Etihad Equity Partners are Virgin Australia run by CEO John Borghetti a good friend of James Hogan, and the airline now has a premium product and a low cost product in Tigerair Australia, loosing money off course as is Qantas., tough market in Australia these days. Air Serbia is ex-JAT and transitioning to A320’s/319’s from B737’s, has potential, but I don’t see a huge future for it, but the US worries it will use the traffic rights to the US which it probably will through Etihad, the same for Italy as well, its why Etihad invests in these markets. Lastly Etihad Express, ex-Darwin Airlines flying ATR-72 and Saab 2000’s on regional routes connecting Etihad destinations in Europe, interesting concept indeed.
The financial results for 2013 show the tremendous progress Etihad Airways has made during its 10 years of existence. With EBIT (earnings before interest and taxes) up 22% to $US 208m and EBITDAR (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, amortization and rentals) up 30% to $US 979m for a 16% EBITDAR, a net profit of $62m for the year.
In 10 years the company has gone from $300m in revenue in 2005 to over $6.1 billion in 2013, and this has been industry leading organic growth strategy with many wide ranging partnerships and its minority equity investments in strategically important carriers. The airline is proud to be a driver in the development of trade and tourism for the emirate of Abu Dhabi, its owner and financial supporter.
The key driver of the growth in 2013 was its partnership strategy of wide ranging code shares (45) and equity investments (now 8), offering 400 destinations around the world.
In 2013, Etihad added 6 destinations (Washington, Amsterdam, Sao Paulo, Belgrade, Ho Chi Minh City and Sana’s) and averaged a 78% load factor.
The airline has a clear mandate from its shareholder to operate as a fully commercial entity, and raised $2.14 billion on the commercial market in 2013 which raises the total to $9 billion, mostly to pay for the fleet development which saw 16 aircraft join its fleet.
In November is showed the world it intends to a a major player for years with an order for 199 aircraft and 294 engines worth $US 67 billion, with now 220 aircraft on firm order, the battle lines are set between the 3 big Gulf airlines.
Etihad Airways is moving to win the loyalty of luxury travelers with a US$20,000 flying hotel suite complete with a Savoy-trained butler.The premium travel experience is being offered on its A380 and B787 Dreamliner aircraft as rival Gulf carriers compete to win high-spending business and first class passengers.
“I think we have set the new standard in premium travel,” said James Hogan, the president and chief executive of Etihad Airways.
“The Residence by Etihad” will be a forward upper-deck cabin configuration on the A380. Accommodating single or double occupancy, it includes a living room, separate double bedroom and en suite shower room. Guests in The Residence will also have a personal butler – trained by the Savoy Butler Academy in London.
Ticket prices start at about $20,000 for either one or two people. The service is being initially offered on London routes starting from this December.
The future looks bright, but the airline has to turnaround Alitalia, Air Berlin, Jet Airways and Virgin Australia, that is a huge undertaking that will take time, lots of money, but the pay off for having the Italian, German, Indian and Australian market accessible through partner airlines is huge, I wish them much success, and will keep you all posted on any major changes. With 8 partners and now 47 code share partners (4 in Americas, 21 in Europe, 3 in Middle East, 4 in Africa, 2 in China, 11 in Asia and 2 in Australia) it is easy to see where the priorities are, Europe then Asia and then the Americas (recenlty signed on with JetBlue and GOL in Brazil), all looking good, keep tune as things are changing as we speak at Etihad.
Thanks for reading my blog, this was a short one, wow ! had to get it out while the Alitalia news was hot, thank you.