Airlines rebound, add new flights
A number of carriers plan to launch new international and domestic routes next year while curtailing non-profitable flights.
By: Zacks Equity Research
After a prolonged battle with soaring fuel prices and capacity pullback to optimize the cost structure, airline companies are on a spree to expand network capacity.
Companies like Delta (DAL), JetBlue (JBLU) and Southwest (LUV) are the latest to join the bandwagon after United Continental (UAL) announced last week that it will launch flights in new international routes in the first half of 2012.
United Continental, through its subsidiaries United and Continental Airlines, is set to leverage the benefits of profitable routes (including the emerging networks) by adding more flights and curtailing non-profitable flights.
Continental will commence daily flights between Houston's Bush Intercontinental Airport and Lagos, Nigeria, on Nov. 16. United will begin nonstop daily flights between New York/Newark Liberty and Buenos Aires, Argentina, in April and Continental will fly between New York/Newark Liberty to Frankfurt Airport from Jan. 2.
Continental will also begin nonstop weekly flights between Los Angeles and Durango, Mexico in March and continuous daily flights from Washington Dulles International Airport to Manchester in May and to Dublin in June.
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Following this news, Delta also queued up its network expansion plans. The carrier will introduce 12 new daily flights to 11 domestic and Caribbean markets in the first half of 2012 to capitalize on the surge in air travel on these routes.
In March, Delta will add services from New York's JFK to various destinations in Latin America and nonstop new flights between New York-LaGuardia and Nassau, Bahamas. Delta will also connect JFK with Austin, Jacksonville, Kansas City, New Orleans, Milwaukee, San Francisco and Los Angeles in June.
With respect to domestic airlines, Southwest was the first to announce new international flights connecting Houston Hobby to San Juan, Puerto Rico, and three other cities in Mexico. The carrier will begin these services by May.
Southwest subsidiary AirTran is also slated to fly between Ft. Lauderdale, Hollywood and San Juan, Puerto Rico and Denver. Trailing a little behind, JetBlue will also add two daily flights connecting San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Ft. Lauderdale in May next year.
The host of services introduced on new and existing networks reflects a positive momentum in the airline industry for the upcoming year. Apart from their dwindling cost structures, these carriers remained challenged by inclement weather conditions and fluctuating economy in the past quarters. Nevertheless, the carriers are expected to hit the growth trajectory based on improving passenger traffic and cargo volumes, particularly in international routes, as well as aggressive fare hikes.
The IATA (International Air Transport Association) projects demand growth of 5.9% in the current year and 4.6% in the following year. Further, it expects revenues to increase up to $632 billion on the aggressive fare hikes. However, the profit margin is expected to be only 1.2% for 2011 and 0.8% for 2012 given the negative impacts of fuel prices.
As a result, we remain cautious on these stocks and continue to maintain our long-term Neutral rating on Delta Air Lines, United Continental, Southwest Airlines and JetBlue.
DELTA AIR LINES (DAL): Free Stock Analysis Report
JETBLUE AIRWAYS (JBLU): Free Stock Analysis Report
SOUTHWEST AIR (LUV): Free Stock Analysis Report
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The solid report comes a month after the retailer closed all of its Canadian operations.
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