LCC airline news: AirAsia bid draws scrutiny; WestJet goes upscale; M&A potential

There are two items of note for low-cost carriers that we find interesting:

  • AirAsia’s bid to buy Batavia Air looks like it is to become a political football, according to this article in the Wall Street Journal.
  • Canada’s WestJet is adding premium coach class to its long-standing single-class service. We find this one particularly interesting.

Then there is this analytical piece from Seeking Alpha about a variety of potential mergers.

Ft Worth columnist blasts American’s Horton

This is one of the most blistering critiques we’ve seen of a company CEO where no improprieties were involved.

Mitchell Schnurman of American’s hometown paper, The Ft. Worth Star Telegram, just pummels AMR/American CEO Tom Horton.

Odds and Ends: the cost of a 737-800; Planes take off despite ground mishap; ‘We know about this’

Boeing 737-800: Wells Fargo’s aerospace analyst team issued a note today that confirms its previous calculations that American Airlines is paying $40m-$41m for its 737-800s.

Update, August 1: We received this note from Wells Fargo: What was confirmed was AA’s SELLING price to AerCap and ILFC, NOT what AA is paying.

American Airlines: AirInsight has this analysis of the current American Airlines situation.

Speaking of American: Flight Global has this story about how an American 767-300ER and a Ryanair 737-800 brushed each other on the ground all pilots were unaware and both airplanes took off.

One more American: The Seattle Post-Intelligencer has this series of 49 photos and airline liveries, past and present, starting with American.

And then there is Alaska Airlines: A passenger snapped this photo on an Alaska Airlines flight. Via NYCAviation’s Tweet.

SPEEA, Boeing contract: Don’t expect an “IAM breakthrough”

SPEEA, the engineers union at Boeing, and the company appear to be at odds in the early stages of contract negotiations and there appears virtually no chance of a surprise breakthrough similar to the IAM 751-Boeing contract last December.

People familiar with the situation on both sides say they are hunkered down for traditional contract negotiations in advance of the October 4 amendable date.

SPEEA suggested in June 2011 that both sides go to binding arbitration as a first, not last step as a way to speed up a contract and avoid protracted, potentially contentious negotiations. Boeing declined, according to SPEEA and confirmed by a person familiar with the Boeing position. According to two sources, Boeing didn’t want to give up decision-making to a third party. Boeing also didn’t see the urgency or need to avoid normal contract negotiations, according to the person familiar with the Boeing thinking.

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Perspective on 787/GEnx engine event at Charleston

It wasn’t even 10:30 PDT and we had already received quite a few phone calls from media and Wall Street asking what we thought of the weekend engine event on an Air India Boeing 787 equipped with GEnx engines during a test at Boeing’s Charleston plant.

The airplane was on a runway when some parts shot out the tailpipe. The hot parts set grass along the runway on fire, closing the airport for an hour.

You can find a lot of stories on Google News but this one is typical–and, in our view, the headline is overly inflammatory.

We saw the early Tweets about the event and pretty much shrugged the event off. It was a test flight, it’s a new engine type, engine “events” happen more than the public or media realize, nobody was hurt, what’s the big deal?

So we’re surprised by how much interest this generated. True, it’s on the 787 and program difficulties mean that the paint could peel and it would become a headline.

Here’s what we’ve told those who called:

  • We’re not concerned. Engines spewing parts is not unknown. It’s the nature of anything mechanical and with a new engine type, the prospect of glitches is elevated. It’s all a matter of context.
  • There is no connection between this incident and the engine failure on the ANA 787. ANA’s airplanes are powered by Rolls-Royce engines; this incident was a GEnx engine.
  • Any suggestion (and there were two) that this might have something to do with the presumption the airplane was made in Charleston is just silly. The engine was made in Ohio (or some other GE plant). Furthermore, there are three Air India airplanes in Charleston, two of which were flown there from Everett. We don’t know which airplane was involved.
  • The authorities, GE and Boeing will consider as cause (in no particular order): FOD (foreign object damage–did the engine ingest something that caused the parts to separate and eject from the rear?; design flaw; defective part; and human error in assembly.

Based on what little is known right now, we don’t see any material impact, if any at all, to the 787 program.

Allegiant Air selects A319

Allegiant Air, an Ultra-Low Cost Carrier in the US, announced that it will lease Airbus A319s from GECAS and purchase more from The Philippines’ Cebu Air.

Update: Here is the Allegiant presentation. This confirms Allegiant is getting the four-exit, 156-passenger airplane.

Notably, Allegiant had this to say:

“The A319 is a new aircraft type for Allegiant, but we otherwise see this as a continuation of our existing business model,” said Andrew C. Levy, Allegiant President. “A319 asset values have significantly declined and now mirror the environment we saw when we first began buying MD-80s.”

Airbus issued this statement:

“A new operator is always great news, but it’s a grand endorsement of the Airbus product line when that operator is a growing low-cost carrier in one of the strongest markets in the world,” said Barry Eccleston, Airbus Americas President and Chief Executive Officer. “Allegiant is hyper conscious of both cost and comfort, and the fact they are turning to the A320 Family proves we have the aircraft the airline knows it needs to fly them successfully into the future.”

Our take:

Allegiant has been operating the MD-80 with 150 seats and is increasing capacity to 160 (or 162). The A319 with wall-to-wall seating is around 150 and somewhat more if a second overwing exit were installed (as with easyJet).

Values of A319s have, as Allegiant noted, been falling in the last few years (so have those for Boeing 737-700s, though not quite as much). Lease rates, according to one lessor, hovers in the $100,000-$120,000 range for older A319s and 737-700s and even less for the oldest ones.

It’s official–new A350 delay

EADS, parent of Airbus, reported that there will be a three month delay for the A350 EIS due to wing drilling issues. We reported on July 6 we expected a delay of 5-6 months and earlier this week linked to an article suggesting one month. Here is an article synopsizing the information. The Wall Street Journal has this article.

This represents a 15 month delay for the A350 XWB-900 EIS. It’s unclear what, if any, cascading effect this will have on the A350-800 and the A350-1000.

Airbus said the program remains “challenging” and the linked news articles indicate this.

We’re skeptical of all new airplane programs given the recent history at Airbus, Boeing, Bombardier (CRJ1000) and, if you want to add it in, COMAC’s ARJ21 (though this one might be a bit unfair to include with the legacy OEMs). We would not be surprised if the A350 has additional delays between now and EIS.

But one thing we are seeing is that Airbus is coming forward sooner with delay acknowledgements than it did on the A380 and Boeing did on the 787. We have to give Airbus credit for being more forthcoming than in the past.

 

Air Asia acquires stake in Batavia Air; opening for CSeries?

Air Asia will acquire 77% of Batavia Air and the rest of the shares next year.

Air Asia is an A320/A330 operator. Batavia has a mix of A320s, A330s and Boeing 737 Classics. We can’t help but wonder if the flirtation at the Farnborough Air Show between Air Asia’s Tony Fernendes and Bombardier over the CSeries might be tied to Batavia.

Odds and Ends: Aeromexico orders 90 MAX 8s, 10 787s; CSeries; A350

Aeromexico ordered 90 Boeing 737-8s and 10 787s. This order had been expected to be ready at the Farnborough Air show.

Aspire Aviation has a long profile on the Bombardier CSeries.

A350 delay: It looks like the wing issues previously disclosed will result in another delay for the program. Aviation International News has this story. Back on July 6 we opined that we’re expecting a delay of perhaps five months. The AIN story talks about one month.

Boeing 2Q12 earnings up

Boeing reported its second quarter and half-year results today. The press release may be found here.

Initial analyst take:

Bernstein:

Boeing reported Q1:2012 EPS of $1.27, versus our estimate of $1.20 and consensus of $1.12. Q1 sales came in at $20.0 bn, above our $19.2 bn estimate and consensus of $19.4 bn. The difference in revenues was all due to higher defense revenues. Although we do not view near term EPS as the most important driver for Boeing stock, this was a positive result. Long term cash flows are most important, which we see as strongly linked to 787 program performance. Deferred production for Q2 again did not meet the trajectory one would want to see on a learning curve. But, we reached the conclusion after meetings with Boeing in June that it was premature to develop a baseline off of reported deferred production at this stage. There is still substantial uncertainty in that trajectory. We see progress on the production ramp and supplier performance as important indicators, though, which appear to be on track

Credit Suisse:

QTR DETAIL

  • EPS of $1.27 beat by 15-cents leading to a guidance raise of 25-cents.
  • Outlook: Expectations were high, but we do not think that this level of guidance increase was expected yet. That said, we believe there is additional upside to guidance as we do not think management would have used all of its “cushion” this early in the year. Consequently, we see consensus of $4.56 rising further.
  • Margins in BCA of 10.2% were strong driven by volume and mix; BDS margins of 9.1% were in-line with Q1 and with the full-year guidance.
  • 787: We see a nice improvement in learning curve with estimated intangible 787 unit costs declining to $118M in Q2 (from $133M in Q1). Note, the improvement is probably greater given that Charleston’s first delivery is embedded. The tangible unit cost of 787 is estimated at $108M for total cash unit cost of ~$226M, down from ~$241M in Q1.
    • The change in 787 deferred production in the quarter was $1,235M; dividing this by the units produced in the quarter (3.5 aircraft x 3 months = 10.5 aircraft yields the $118M estimated intangible unit cost for Q2.
  • R&D: BCA R&D was $560M in the quarter (up from $544M in Q1). Boeing retained its forecast for total R&D expense of $3.3-3.5B for the year.

JP Morgan

  • Boeing delivered a solid Q2, and we expect the stock to perform well out of the gate. Our main concern coming into earnings was the outlook for 737 margin, and since the 737 block extension is likely to take place in 2H, we still expect some level of cautious commentary on the call. Management did raise BCA margin guidance to the top of the prior range of 8.5-9.0%, which is still below our estimate of 9.5% (we thought prior guidance was excessively conservative) but at least suggests that management feels good about performance. Higher defense sales also drove the 25-cent increase in 2012 EPS guidance.
  • We see aircraft demand and 787 execution as the two key issues for the stock. Regarding aircraft demand, we expect little incremental info today. On 787, we expected little cash flow progress in Q2 since there were only six deliveries (this was already disclosed), but today management maintained guidance for roughly 40 deliveries this year, indicating confidence that the planned 2H pickup.

UBS

  • *Q2 at $1.27: BA Q2 EPS at $1.27 vs $1.14 UBS and $1.12 consensus. All the upside relative to our model came from BDSS (Defense) as BCAG (Commercial Airplanes) came through slightly below our expectations with 10.2% margins. Pre R&D BCA margins at 15% roughly in line with Q1 while we estimate pre R&D margins ex 747-8/787 at 17%. BDSS surprisingly grew revenues 7% with stable margins at 9.1%. FCF at $552M or 57% of net income, although slightly better than our forecast, dragged down on $2B+ inventory build and $763M pension contribution.
  • *Minor improvement in 787 cash costs: 787 deferred production grew by $1.2B, roughly in line with prior quarter, although on slightly higher production. We estimate deferred production at $120M per airplane produced during the quarter down from $132M in prior quarter. BCAG reported a $144M unit accounting loss reflective of 747-8 and 787 losses, slightly higher than $138M in Q1 on one additional 747-8 and 787 delivery.

Comments from the earnings call:

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