Southwest Airlines, Co. operates Southwest Airlines (Southwest) and AirTran Airways (AirTran), passenger airlines that provide scheduled air transportation in the United States and near-international markets.
IATA boosts its 2013 profit forecast for the airline industry to $12.7B from $10.6B previously (and up 67% from 2012) thanks to better traffic and lower-than-expected fuel prices. The industry load factor is expected to hit a record 80.3% this year, 6 points higher than the previous record set in 2006. At the same time the group reminds of wafer-thin profit margins for many passenger airlines and notes air cargo market growth has stagnated.
Southwest Airlines (LUV +2.4%) was busy today at its board meeting, approving a dividend hike to $0.04 per share from a penny per share and increasing its share repurchase allowance to $1.5B from $1.0B. The carrier also revised its aircraft delivery schedule. New 2014 forecast: Five Boeing 737-700 firm orders were converted to 737-800s, five options were exercised for -800 deliveries from Boeing, and five options to buy Boeing Next Generation jets were relinquished.
U.S. airlines collected $6B in baggage fees (+3.8% Y/Y) and reservation change fees (+7.3%) last year as the industry's model continues to shift. This year looks like it could bring airliners an even bigger haul with American Airlines (AAMRQ.PK), Delta Airlines (DAL +1.7%), United Continental (UAL +1.2%), and US Airways (LCC +2.4%) all raising their domestic flight fee change 33% higher to $200 while Southwest Airlines (LUV +0.5%) adds some cancellations fees of its own.
Behind Delta Air Lines' (DAL +2.8%) new buyback plan and quarterly dividend marks a paradigm shift at the company, according to CEO Richard Anderson. The change in the capital structure of the carrier also includes a reduction of Delta's debt position as it looks "de-risk" the balance sheet on top of the capital allocation. Will the airline industry (UAL, LCC, JBLU, RJET, ALK, HA, LUV, AAMRQ.PK) finally revert to a business model that throws off cash flow and rewards investors?
Southwest Airlines (LUV) reports April traffic increased 1.5% Y/Y to 8.7B revenue passenger miles. Due to partially to a lighter load factor, passenger revenue per available seat mile fell an estimated 4% to 5%. The carrier flew 3.8% fewer trips during the month than a year ago.
Air traffic control operations are set to return to normal by this evening after the FAA ended the staff furloughs that had caused the delay of thousands of flights since coming into effect last Sunday. The FAA's move follows Congress' passing of legislation that allowed the agency to redirect up to $253M of its airport improvement budget to fund staffing and operations.
The squeaky wheel gets the grease as the U.S. House votes to approve a bill to end the furlough of FAA employees. Those that bought airline stocks (FAA) on Monday when overwrought reports of long delays at U.S. airports rattled the sector made a good call.
Moving at lightening speed and foregoing debate, the Senate last night unanimously voted to approve a bill that allows the Department of Transportation to use unspent funds to cover the costs of air traffic controllers and end the furloughs that were prompted by sequestration and have caused widespread flight delays. The House could take up the legislation today and is expected to approve it.
More on Southwest Airlines' (LUV) Q1: Revenue gains was up despite relatively flat available seat miles as the integration of AirTran integration and the Rapid Rewards loyalty program helped boost results. Fuel and oil expenses fell 3.5% Y/Y. The carrier says it remain cautious about April trends but reports solid bookings for May and June. (PR)
Senators from both parties have introduced legislation aimed at easing the airport congestion and flight delays caused by sequestration. One bill would give the Department of Transportation and FAA the ability to move funds between different accounts in order to reduce the furloughs for air-traffic controllers. The leaves of absence have so far been distributed evenly among all controllers, regardless of whether they work at busy or quiet airports.
Airline travel analysts think other carriers will match the $50 increase to $200 in United Continental's (UAL +1.3%) ticket change fee. Part of the rationale behind the change is to increase the incentive for business travelers to buy more expensive tickets with flexibility on ticket changes built in. Keeping up its lone wolf ways, Southwest Airlines (LUV +0.6%) will stick with its policy of no change fees.
The airline industry (FAA) doesn't think carriers should be fined by the DOT for tarmac delays due to the reduced number of air traffic controllers working this week following mandated furloughs. Two industry groups have filed a motion asking the DOT to suspend the three-year old tarmac rule.
Early indications are that the furlough by the FAA of employees - including air traffic controllers - isn't causing significant delays and flight cancellations. In the background, airline trade groups are keeping up the pressure on the FAA with a new lawsuit aimed at curtailing the furloughs. (flight tracking stats)