European airlines: constraints on change
The single European Union (EU) market for air transport was formed only in 1997. Since then, the traditional airlines have had to compete with low-cost carriers on their short and medium-haul flights. But now, new competition has been developing even more rapidly with regard to long-haul flights: the Gulf carriers. Their traffic, capacity and profitability are expanding more rapidly than in any other region of the world. And, because they have been unable to acquire new air traffic rights, they have stepped up their acquisition of stakes in EU carriers. At a time when it seems vital to tap into Asia's growth potential, European carriers have been hit by this aggressive competition and are among the least profitable in the world. There is much to be learned from the changes observed on the US internal market, liberalised since 1978. Increase profitability, tap into demand where it exists and do better than the new entrants – these are the three main challenges faced by Europe's major, traditional players. Are we seeing the start of a new wave of consolidation like that which occurred in the United States?