Thursday, January 29, 2015

Skymark to cut 15% of flights, ground all Airbus A330s.

Follow-up from Skymark to file for bankruptcy.

On January 29th, Skymark Airlines [BC/SKY] announced that its filing for bankruptcy protection (Skymark to file for bankruptcy.) with the Tokyo District Court had been accepted. During a press conference held by new President and CEO Masakazu Arimori and Representative Chairman Takashi Ide, it was announced that 15% of flights would be suspended and its entire Airbus A330 fleet grounded effective February 1st. Further network reductions will come into effect from March 29th, the beginning of the Summer 2015 timetable.

Skymark will move back to an all-Boeing 737 operator effective February 1st. The 271-seat all-premium Airbus A330s had only entered service on June 14th, 2014. (Photo: Aviation Wire)

Japan's third largest carrier currently flies 152 daily flights covering 23 nonstop routes, however, that will be reduced to 126 on Wednesdays and 128 on other days effective February 1st. A dozen routes spanning the following cities will be affected: Fukuoka [FUK/RJFF], Ibaraki [IBR/RJAH], Ishigaki [ISG/ROIG], Kobe [UKB/RJBE], Miyako [MMY/ROMY], Nagoya/Chubu Centrair [NGO/RJGG], Okinawa/Naha [OKA/ROAH], Sapporo/New Chitose [CTS/RJCC], Sendai [SDJ/RJSS], and Yonago [YGJ/RJOH].

Flight Reductions effective February 1st:
Fukuoka – Ibaraki from 2 daily to 1 daily. 
Fukuoka – Naha from 4 daily to 2 daily. 
Fukuoka – Sendai from 2 daily to 6 weekly. *Suspension from Mar/29.
Kobe – Naha from 2 daily to 1 daily. 
Kobe – New Chitose from 2 daily to 1 daily. 
Kobe – Yonago from 2 daily to 1 daily.
Chubu Centrair – Naha from 2 daily to 1 daily. 
Chubu Centrair – New Chitose from 2 daily to 1 daily.
Naha – Ishigaki from 3 daily to 2 daily. *Suspension from Mar/29.
Naha – Miyako from 3 daily to 2 daily. *Suspension from Mar/29.
New Chitose – Ibaraki from 2 daily to 1 daily.
New Chitose – Sendai from 3 daily to 2 daily. *Suspension from Mar/29.

From March 29th, in addition to the previously announced suspension of New Chitose – Sendai (Skymark takes ANA & JAL dual tie-up, axes Sendai – Sapporo.), Skymark will also axe Fukuoka – Sendai, plus Ishigaki and Miyako entirely. Further terminations are likely as the airline reorganizes, with Kobe – Kagoshima [KOJ/RJFK], Kobe – Sendai, and Yonago – Naha probably next up; these three along with New Chitose – Sendai recorded load factors in the 30-40% range for December, one of the peak travel months. Yonago, only launched on December 20th, 2013 as a focus city boasting five routes last summer, as well as Sendai are likely to be closed down entirely (Skymark mulls Yonago pull-out and Sendai cuts.).

As for its fleet, the all-premium 271-seat A330-300s (Skymark Airlines inaugurates Airbus A330 service.) they had only introduced in June last year will be grounded effective February 1st. Six have been delivered so far, though the sixth was only recently handed over and was awaiting a ferry flight from France. Five are leased from Intrepid Aviation and one from CIT Aerospace, with four more on order for delivery by September this year, but Skymark will negotiate to return all airframes and cancel the remaining on order. As it dumped capacity on trunk routes, Skymark often had to slash price of the A330s' premium seats to below that of rivals' economy fares; the more Skymark flew the A330, the more they hemorrhaged. Pilots certified for the A330 will be retrained for the Boeing 737.

Total debt stood at 71 billion JPY, not including the 700 million USD in penalties Airbus is seeking for the cancellation of the Airbus A380 order (Skymark hopes to settle Airbus A380 penalty in October.). As it also needs to cancel A330 contracts, the figure is only estimated to grow in the following months.

Investment fund Integral Corporation will provide finance and help Skymark continue flying while it reorganizes, and Mr. Arimori added "No specific airline has shown interest yet, but we will continue to look for sponsors according to law." Prospect for foreign investment is not zero, but ownership change exceeding 20% will necessitate relinquishing Skymark's 36 prized slot-pairs at Tokyo/Haneda [HND/RJTT], which decreases the appetite of airlines abroad (Skymark's fate: MLIT discourages foreign investment.). Domestically, ANA Holdings, parent of All Nippon Airways [NH/ANA], is the only airline in a position to assist, as the controversial 8.10 Paper prohibits Japan Airlines [JL/JAL] from making any new investments until FY2017.

Skymark also said it will continue discussions with both ANA and JAL to reach a code-share deal (Skymark takes ANA & JAL dual tie-up, axes Sendai – Sapporo.), however, the plan is likely to be reviewed as it was aimed to fill the excess capacity of the A330s. Layoff of staff is not planned, and its approximately 2,200 workforce will be retained at least for now.

The quarterly earnings report, which was due today, has been postponed to February 4th. Shares of Japan's troubled third largest carrier plunged 25% today on January 29th, down by 80 JPY, the maximum possible drop in a day, to 237 JPY per share. The carrier will be de-listed from the Tokyo Stock Exchange effective March 1st, so shareholders have until February 27th to manage their stocks.

But again, the biggest question is how will they restructure? Which market will they go after? Skymark will revert to an all-737 operator flying a network that is a fraction the size of ANA and JAL, without any loyalty program nor premium product. Fares will still be more affordable than ANA and JAL, but will be far from matching those of LCCs based at Tokyo/Narita [NRT/RJAA], its access of which has improved greatly both in terms of time and cost. As has been the case with its post-deregulation peers, will it eventually choose to come under the umbrella of ANA (Running out of time: Will Skymark join ANA?)? Or will it become Japan's first airline to be liquidated?

Source: Skymark Airlines, January 29th. (in Japanese)
Source: Skymark Airlines, January 29th. (in Japanese) 
Source: Nikkei Shimbun, January 29th. (in Japanese)
Source: Aviation Wire, January 29th. (in Japanese)
Source: Skymark Airlines, January 29th. (in Japanese) 

*Edited/updated on February 12th.

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