Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Skymark relaunched with ANA sponsorship.

On September 29th, bankrupt Skymark Airlines [BC/SKY] (Skymark to file for bankruptcy.) officially revamped its ownership structure and management. A 100% capital reduction was performed, followed by a 18 billion JPY capital injection together from Integral Corporation, ANA Holdings, and UDS Airlines Investment, which officially became the new owners of the embattled airline, controlling 50.1%, 16.5%, and 33.4%, respectively (Creditors choose ANA/Skymark proposal over Delta/Intrepid.). UDS is a new investment firm jointly owned by Development Bank of Japan (DBJ) and Sumitomo Mitsui Banking, both now long-time partners of ANA Holdings.

Boeing 737-86N(WL) JA73NJ taxies at New Chitose. Skymark intends to retain a fleet of at least 26 baby Boeings. Can Skymark remain independent? Caught in between the incumbent carriers and new LCCs, what market could it pursue outside its bread-and-butter (for now) Haneda? (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

The former Skymark management, including Chairman Takashi Ide and President Masakazu Arimori, has been entirely replaced by six new executives. Integral's President Nobuo Sayama has become Chairman and Masahiko Ichie of Development Bank of Japan (DBJ) assumed the role of President. Senior Managing Director is Hideo Yaguchi from OCS, an ANA Holdings cargo subsidiary, who will be responsible for general supervision. Manabu Motohashi, the sole person on the board from within Skymark, is Managing Director and Executive Officer, taking responsibility for management planning, overall control for marketing, and information system. Integral's Shigeki Nishioka has become Director and Executive Officer, overseeing finance, accounting, general affairs, human resources, and listing preparation. ANA's Noriyuki Masukawa has been appointed Director to supervise safety operations.
At the same time, Skymark signed a binding code-sharing agreement with rival All Nippon Airways [NH/ANA], subsidiary of the bankrupt carrier's now 16.5% owner ANA Holdings, which is the centerpiece of the struggling airline's corporate rehabilitation plan (Skymark gives in to ANA; Japan reverts to duopoly.). Discussions are being held to implement code-sharing on 13 routes; all but three routes out of Tokyo/Haneda [HND/RJTT] and Sendai [SDJ/RJSS], which is being axed at the end of next month (Skymark to pull out of Sendai in October.). Omitted from Haneda are to Fukuoka [FUK/RJFF], Kagoshima [KOJ/RJFK], and Sapporo/New Chitose [CTS/RJCC], where ANA already commands the lion's share of flights and they learned the Japan Fair Trade Commission is unlikely to give a nod.

"We're working towards starting code-sharing in Winter 2016/2017," said Mr. Sayama, adding "We hope to reveal the outline of code-sharing by mid-October." ANA has been pushing Skymark to adopt their Able-D reservations system, which was also taken up by previous ANA-sponsored airlines AIRDO [HD/ADO] (d.b.a Air Do), Skynet Asia Airways [6J/SNJ] (d.b.a. Solaseed Air), and Star Flyer [7G/SFJ]. However, taking up the system meant pricing needed to have consent from ANA, and all income would go into ANA first and then later be transferred to the airlines, virtually making the three quasi-subsidiaries of ANA. Mr. Sayama has said "Nobody can call that independent, so Skymark can't do that." Outgoing Chairman Mr. Ide had also stated that preserving Skymark's own reservations system, handmade by former President and CEO Shinichi Nishikubo, and modifying it to make it compatible with code-shares, instead of abandoning it and wholly-adopting Able-D, is key to keeping Skymark independent from ANA.

Boeing 737-881(WL) JA75AN takes off from Haneda. Now the ANA group has direct and indirect influence over a dominant 60% of domestic slots at Haneda. With Air Do, Solaseed Air, and Star Flyer having adopted ANA's reservations system and effectively becoming de facto subsidiaries of ANA, a key to Skymark's independence in the long term is to continue using its own platform. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

In addition, Skymark reached an agreement with Mizuho Bank for the establishment of a commitment line on September 17th, allowing up to 10 billion JPY in financing. Payments to creditors will commence on November 30th, and those claiming 1 million JPY will receive the entire figure while those claiming more will initially be given 5% of the amount exceeding 1 million JPY. Biggest creditor Intrepid Aviation, which initially sought for 900 million USD (108 billion JPY) for scrapping Airbus 330 leases (Skymark terminates all Airbus A330 leases.) and fought against ANA to sponsor Skymark with Delta Air Lines [DL/DAL] (Intrepid picks Delta to sponsor Skymark.), has compromised at 57.3 billion JPY, while talks are still continuing with Airbus, Rolls-Royce, and CIT Aerospace, which are the second, third, and fourth largest creditors, respectively. A settlement with Airbus and Rolls-Royce is to be watched, as rumors point out to ANA making a backroom deal to purchase three of Skymark's canceled Rolls-Royce-powered A380s and taking options for two more, which prompted the two creditors to make a last-minute sway in favor of ANA's sponsorship over Delta's (Bye-bye Skymark, Hello ANA Airbus A380?).

Mr. Ichie said that no new routes nor route cuts are planned for the following year, after Sendai is axed. The new chief said Skymark will focus more on building loyalty in its communities where it has a relatively stronger brand recognition, such as in Kobe [UKB/RJBE] and Ibaraki [IBR/RJAH]. The fleet will be kept at at least 26 Boeing 737-800s, and whether to renew the lease of the 27th machine, which is expiring in January 2016, is currently being evaluated. Mr. Sayama confirmed that Skymark will retain its current identity even after it emerges from bankruptcy protection, instead of renaming it SKY bee (Skymark hints at new brand: SKY bee?). Both the new and old management agree that Skymark could become quickly profitable and be listed again in three years. Regulator Japan Civil Aviation Bureau (JCAB) has hinted limiting ANA's financial involvement in Skymark to five years to keep competition at Haneda, however, ANA's cozy relationship with the governing Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) could make the winds blow in their favor again.

Skymark's load factors are quickly recovering. Although August is normally a high month as it is the peak summer vacation travel season coupled with Obon homecoming, the bankrupt airline produced load factors exceeding 90% for most Haneda routes. It doesn't directly translate to yields, however, it is nevertheless a positive sign. With the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism (MLIT) currently planning to allocate most, if not all of, new future slots at Haneda to international flights in preparation for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics/Paralympics, its domestic market remains closed off to LCCs, making Skymark the only low-fare option at Japan's most important airport. But what market will Skymark pursue beyond that? It has lost against LCCs on almost every other directly-competing route, and though much lower cost and offering lower fares than ANA or JAL, it has failed to generate demand, which the LCCs have succeeded in doing. Regional international routes within reach of its 737s are also seeing growing competition from LCCs. And with the domestic market shrinking, Haneda is not a safe haven forever.

Finding itself being caught in between the majors and LCCs forced Skymark to boldly (and unsuccessfully) pursue the demand for affordable premium travel, initially in the domestic market with all-premium A330s (Skymark Airlines inaugurates Airbus A330 service.) and in the international long-haul arena with premium-only A380s (Skymark posts loss but optimistic with strategy tweaks.). The A330s were also equipped with full galleys so that it could fly regional international routes as well. However, it was too costly and Skymark failed there. So what future lies for Skymark in the long term?

Source: Aviation Wire, 2015 September 1st. (in Japanese)
Source: Aviation Wire, 2015 September 2nd. (in Japanese) 
Source: Aviation Wire, 2015 September 11th. (in Japanese)
Source: Hokkaido Shimbun, 2015 September 15th. (in Japanese)
Source: Toyo Keizai, 2015 September 17th. (in Japanese)
Source: Toyo Keizai, 2015 September 24th. (in Japanese)
Source: Aviation Wire, 2015 September 29th. (in Japanese)
Source: Skymark Airlines, 2015 September 29th. (in English)
Source: Nikkei Shimbun, 2015 September 29th. (in Japanese)
Source: Aviation Wire, 2015 September 29th. (in Japanese)

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