Monday, 31 October 2011

Qatar Airways about to invest in Spanair and why this is good news for Barcelona airport (and II)

As a continuation of my previous post on Qatar Airways possible acquisition of a stake in Spanair, here are some interesting questions that come to my mind when thinking about the possible consequences of this deal:

1) What is going to happen with Spanair's current Star Alliance membership and how is this going to affect the agreements Spanair had with Star partners on several routes, some of were of strategic importance to the carrier, such as Singapore-Barcelona-Sao Paulo.

2) What designs has Qatar Airways for the new Spanair and what degree of control would be able to exert? Is this a purely financial operation, with Qatar Airways limiting itself to turn the company around and making it a stronger stand-alone carrier?  Or are we witnessing the first act of a much more ambitious project aimed at building a presence in Europe (possibly by acquiring other troubled European airlines). If the latter turns out to be the case, it would be interesting to know what is Qatar Airways plan: a feeder operation involving a transit through Barcelona from Southern Europe regional airports and onto the Gulf does not seem to fit into the global-connector strategy Qatar Airways is developing through its Doha hub. Or maybe using Spanair to code-share on flights beyond Europe, as Singapore Airlines is already doing with Spanair? or build a base in Barcelona to fly from there to destinations in America, along the lines of what Indian carrier Jet Airways tried to do in Brussels?

In any case, Qatar Airways is gaining access to a large and recently renovated airport, with plenty of spare capacity and a geographical position that makes it a suitable gateway to Europe and beyond when flying from the Gulf.

3) Another interesting question that comes up these days is: will Spanair keep its name? rumours are its name is going to be changed to Air Barcelona or Barcelona Airlines. I am, personally, not a big fan of airlines named after cities, but this change would possibly make sense, since the Spanair brand does not enjoy a particularly strong recognition, whereas "Barcelona" is certainly a powerful brand (coincidentally or not, the Emirate of Qatar is also sponsoring FC Barcelona and another of the World's emerging airlines kicked off its European brand building campaign by associating itself with Barcelona's name)

In any case, I will be posting more analysis as soon as more news will come out soon, as Spanair's current situation is hardly this space!

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Qatar Airways about to invest in Spanair and why this is good news for Barcelona airport (I)

I just learned that Qatar Airways might be about to acquire a 49% stake in Barcelona-based troubled airline Spanair. While I do not know the details of the deal, I can think of a few reasons why this could be a good move for all parties involved, as well as for Barcelona's airport.

First of all, is a matter of financial necessity and of urgency. Spanair is in a critical financial situation and, despite strong backing from the Catalan government, is quickly running out of cash. Since I wrote this note a few months back it seems Spanair's cash-flow position has only got worse.

An investor with deep pockets is needed in order to keep the airline flying and allow the Catalan government to save face and disentagle itself from an operation that is difficult to justify at a time of tough budget cuts, while claiming a partial success at keeping Barcelona's long-haul hub aspirations alive.

And this takes us to the next factor that I think it makes a tie-up with Qatar Airways a potentially interesting proposition and this is none other than opening a window to the East and to the globe's currently most dynamic economies. On June 2010 I commented on this blog how commercial aviation's center of gravity is moving East and any carrier and airport with aspirations should try to ride this trend. A link with Qatar would certainly help Spanair and Barcelona airport gain this intercontinental dimension they have been so much longing for.

A side effect of a re-capitalized Spanair is that it will put pressure on Vueling, Barcelona's other airline, that is already being squeezed by Ryanair's increasing presence at BCN. Having to face renewed competition from a stronger Spanair will certainly not help recover its margins. It will also prevent Vueling from becoming the only carrier able to build some sort of air hub at Barcelona. Although Vueling has been developing some flight connectivity at BCN there are serious doubts about Vueling's capacity to build a fully fledged hub at the shadow of Iberia, that remains its main shareholder, since any such move would risk cannibalizing Iberia's operations in its main Madrid hub.

In my next post I am going to present some interesting strategic questions that arise from the possible imminent completion of this deal...