As a kid, I first started plane spotting when I flew through the airports of in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. I became expert by the age of six at picking out all of the different tails of airlines. The bright colours of Braniff, the dignified blue of Pan Am, the proud speedbird of BOAC, the Kangaroo of Qantas and the blue and white S of Sabena all were recognisable instantly. Fast forward forty years, and most of those airlines are gone.
As an adult, I still like looking at those tails and dream both about the carrier and it service and the exotic destinations it connects. I promise I am not obsessive about my plane spotting. I don’t make many special trips to the airport, just to watch planes! I am noticing that while I see more planes at most airports, I am seeing fewer and fewer airlines.
A few years ago, a friend of mine Tony (see earlier post on how he got me into Flightmemory) and I tipped that the number of carriers globally would fall to a dozen or so with a small number of regional carriers. We saw national lines would get blurred, that fewer governments would be able or willing to prop carriers up and economics would force consolidation. Tony passed away a few years ago. He would be amazed at how quickly our predictions are indeed happening. Air France-KLM (2004), Lufthansa-Austrian-Swiss (2007-8), Delta-Northwest (2008), British-Iberia (2011), and United-Continental (2012). Now American and USAir are talking.
European airlines seem to be consolidating into seven major airline groups listed here in order of number of passengers carried:
- Germany’s Lufthansa (who own Austrian, Germanwings, SWISS, Lauda, 45% of Brussels and 16% of Us Carrier JetBlue)- they made €820m in 2011 but lost money on British Midland who they are offloading. Their subsidiary Austrian is under major pressure
- Ryanair- made €401m and are aiming to double passenger numbers in a decade
- Air France-KLM (who are closing in on ownership of Alitalia) lost €353 million
- EasyJet – increased pre tex profits in 2011 to €303 ($362m £248m)
- International Airlines Group ( British Airways and Iberia) who doubled operating profits to €485 million
- Turkish Airlines (winner of best European airline in 2011) was profitable and aims to be one of the 12 airlines in the world
- Air Berlin ( now 29% owned by Etihad) and the newest One World member reported a net loss of €271.8m ($322m; £205m). I am curious as to how much Etihad will decide to end up owning