Anytown, U.S.A. is the best place in the continental United States to start an airline. Puddle Jumpers's management decision to do just that is based upon extensive research compiled from The Department of Transportation O & D report data. This data provides a reliable source (based upon a compilation of actual airline arrivals and departures) of origination and destination demand by passenger, by day. The key measure of demand between any two given points in the grid is called "PDEW." That is "passengers departed each way." The PDEW compiles a total number of passengers on all carriers between two points, on average, each day. This total is irrespective of final destination.
The other keys factors that resulted in the choice of Anytown as a hub derive from management's experience and knowledge in commercial aviation. Principal to the decision is an airline industry insider's understanding of the problems that face US Air, the dominate carrier in the Anytown market. Also, the lack of availability of a true "discount" fare option to the Anytown traveler is pivotal.
Management is making the judgment that not only is the Anytown market vulnerable to a new carrier, but also that the ability of US Air to retaliate will be limited. Further, the likelihood of a major carrier to respond is unlikely. The only real threat would be another new entry. So the opportunity may best be described as one ready and waiting for the first entrant who arrives with a well conceived plan, sufficient industry experience, and with the required capitalization.
The airline industry is dominated by the major carriers. It is an industry characterized by merger, acquisition, and consolidation. Like so many other industries it has quickly evolved into an industry that has room only for major players and smaller "specialty" or "niche" participants. There are two specialty segments that have characteristically been exploited by new entrants. One is the "price" niche and the other is the "route" niche. One focuses on charging less, the other on providing either the only service between two given points (the "commuter" or "feeder" concept) or else superior or more convenient or less costly service between two heavily traveled destinations.
In today's marketplace the "price" positioning, in and of itself, is no longer a sufficient concept on which to build an airline. Since de-regulation the flying public has been inundated with low fares. Low fares have become an expectation, not a promise. Thus, the true market segment opportunities today have become a COMBINATION of service mix, price, and route selection. The more critical decision has become one of deciding on service mix and price in conjunction with LENGTH of route. The specialty carrier is now relegated to either "short-haul" or "long-haul" concentration. There is room for a long-haul carrier who efficiently serves limited routes with only the equipment designed to serve those routes and, conversely, there is room for a short-haul carrier to take advantage of similar economies available with new technology and the proper equipment. Puddle Jumpers feels that the likelihood of competition from major carriers is less likely in the short-haul segment.
Short-haul carriers also may operate efficiently out of a single hub. This enables consolidation of services and economies of down-sized scale. At the same time, the revenues available from short hauls are comparatively higher than long hauls on a per-passenger-mile basis.
Short haul revenues are simultaneously high enough to build a substantial business in the hundred million dollar multiple range.
Thus Puddle Jumpers may be said to target the short-haul, single hub, discount fare market segment. This is a new segment defined by the demands of today's traveler.
NOTE: For display purposes in this sample plan, numerical values in tables and charts are shown in thousands (000's).
The Federal Government de-regulated the airline industry in 1978. Prior to that time the government virtually guaranteed the profitability of the airline industry, at the expense of the consumer. Routes were restricted. Fares were fixed. Costs got out of control. Today some of the major carriers still continue to operate at less than optimum efficiency. This has spawned the success of various "discount" carriers, most notably Southwest, ValuJet, and the new U2 planned by UAL.
The low cost carriers have proven that they can operate profitably, can garner market share, and have even spawned an increase in travel by luring those who would previously have traveled by bus, rail, or automobile or who would not have traveled at all.
In 1994, ValuJet Airlines in Anytown experienced considerable success and enjoyed rapid growth. It has forced TWA to abandon its mini hub in Anytown and has grown to more than 40 aircraft in two years. Until recently, Anytown was the most expensive major city in the U.S. to fly to or from. This was due, in part, to the near monopoly condition engendered by Delta's dominance of the Anytown market.
ValuJet remains the economic success model for start-up airlines, although Puddle Jumpers management feels that it should not be the operational model. ValuJet's current problems are the result of unbridled growth without commensurate control.
Many major airlines today are experiencing significant losses. The management of Puddle Jumpers feels that these losses can be traced directly to the high cost of labor, operational inefficiency, and poor management. Management further believes that the major carriers cannot profitably compete against start-up carriers with limited and specific market focus and lower over-all cost structures.
In retrospect, de-regulation has succeeded in providing air travelers with better service but has not necessarily provided service at a lower price. In the recent times of financial trouble many airlines have complained of an under supply of air travelers, when in fact there is an under supply of affordable seats. It is Puddle Jumpers's goal to provide these affordable seats while maintaining a profitable airline.
Sales of airline tickets have historically been either direct from the airline itself or through various travel agents. Modern computer technology and communications capability are changing the mix dramatically. Travel agents once accounted for 80% of ticket sales. This channel of distribution has been one of very high cost to the airlines. Travel agent commissions at one time became the highest individual cost item to an airline. Perks and incentives amounted to coercion and bribery. The airlines found themselves held hostage. Not until Delta boldly announced that commissions to travel agents would be held to 10% did the situation begin to change.
The physical cost of printing and distributing tickets is also substantial. Travel agents estimate that it costs them an average of $30 in total cost to originate an airline ticket. Many of them have begun to add their own service fees to the actual cost of a ticket.
Available technology has now afforded the opportunity both to sell one's own tickets and to eliminate the physical ticket altogether. The critical element for both strategies to be successful for an airline is simply to create the demand for travel on one's airline. If the airline makes it desirable for the consumer to want to fly it then it is just as easy to order tickets directly from the airline as it is from any other source. Puddle Jumpers will have fifty of its own reservations agents available via an 800 number (the service will be 24 hours from an available pool of 90 agents in total). In addition, we will have an Internet site where schedules are available and customers can book their own reservations and buy tickets via credit card.
Puddle Jumpers expects to sell as much as 90% of its air travel "direct" and "ticketless." Even so, we have budgeted 30% of sales as subject to agent's commission.
"Ticketless" travel has an additional advantage since Puddle Jumpers will not wait 30 days for collection of clearinghouse funds from other airlines on combined-carrier tickets. Also, it is not expected to be a competitive disadvantage for Puddle Jumpers's passengers to connect to other airlines. They will want to fly Puddle Jumpers to available destinations to save money even if they need to buy a paper ticket on another airline. Puddle Jumpers flights will be listed in all available flight information systems.
The most critical factor for Puddle Jumpers or any new airline to overcome is the issue of brand awareness and name recognition. Customers prefer to fly with carriers they know and trust. There is little doubt that Puddle Jumpers will need to spend heavily and frequently to advertise and promote its product. The needed amounts are budgeted in this plan. The advantage is that local media can be utilized which is more cost effective on a per-impression basis. It can also be highly targeted. It has been proven in the past that market share can be achieved for a new airline.
Critical in today's environment is safety. Consumers will switch for lower costs, but not at the expense of a perception of a safety risk, or not at the expense of expected on-time performance. Puddle Jumpers's media executions will emphasize these two main themes.
In the Anytown market, Puddle Jumpers expects to appeal to a mix of business oriented travelers and personal travelers. One issue is whether or not "frequent flier miles" are needed to compete and sell tickets. Management feels they are not. Industry estimates show that as many as 10% of occupied seats on domestic flights are currently "no revenue" as a result of redemption of premiums earned. It is also very expensive for an airline to administer its frequent flyer program. Puddle Jumpers feels that our cost advantage in Anytown will outweigh the lack of "incentive" rewards. We expect that casual and personal travelers don't fly often enough for "points" to be significant. At the same time Puddle Jumpers will initiate a concerted sales effort directly to all major corporations in the Anytown market. We hope to have business travel mandated by these corporations on a cost basis alone.
The only significant competitor in the Anytown market is US Air. At one time Eastern and Piedmont dominated the market. Eastern went out and Piedmont was acquired by US Air. US Air is highly vulnerable because of its high operating costs. ASM short-haul cost of 12 cents is currently the highest in the US. US Air commands 86% of the Anytown air travel market. Delta is a distant second with 2%.
As a result, Anytown currently has the highest air travel costs in the country and 0% of air travel is at discount fares.
US Air's problems can be traced to two main factors. The first is the fact that their growth strategy has been by acquisition. It is apparent that management paid too much for many small regional carriers and also that the consolidation of these carriers has not produced the operational cost advantages that were anticipated. Secondly, and most important, has been out-of-control labor costs. US Air's stronghold is in the North East. The strongest labor unions are located in this part of the country and prior management has been completely ineffective in obtaining any concessions from these unions.
In spite of high costs, US Air has grown to become the nation's sixth largest carrier. However, recent press articles indicate a large measure of uncertainty in their future path. Berkshire Hathaway has asked US Air to buy back its 10% stake in the airline. Stephen Wolf, US Air's new chairman has stated that US Air needs to become a carrier "of choice" not merely "of convenience." He said further that US Air must either buy another airline, be acquired itself, or form a partnership with another carrier. The question is WHO? No one in the industry wants US Air's high cost structure. And even if a new owner could obtain concessions, who's current routes are compatible with US Air? The management of Puddle Jumpers cannot identify a strategic suitor. TWA or Continental would be the most likely to acquire US Air from an economic standpoint but the routes don't match well.
Puddle Jumpers concludes that the Anytown opportunity is likely to be free from imposing competition unless it comes from another start-up. If we are able to attack the market first with sufficient capitalization, we feel we will be difficult to overcome and should be able to build critical mass within two years.
The major air carriers in the U.S. are not the focus of this plan. They are not viewed as competition to a single hub, short-haul, low cost entrant. The following three airlines are worthy of study. Southwest as one to emulate. ValuJet as one to improve upon. US Air as one to learn from and avoid similar pitfalls.
Southwest Airlines is the model for operating a safe and successful discount carrier. Even though Southwest has the lowest cost per ASM in the airline industry for short-haul carriers they have never experienced a fatal crash in more than 25 years of operation.
ValuJet remains the financial model for a start-up airline. The return to initial investors and early shareholders has been outstanding. However, operations have been marginal and growth was too fast.
US Air is the model for classically mismanaged labor cost within the airline industry. This plan focuses on a deeper discussion of US Air in the "Competition" section. US Air controls an 86% market share in Anytown. Delta is second with 2%.
Puddle Jumpers management has studied extensively the history of the above three airlines. All three have grown to substantial revenue size amidst the major airlines. None of the three existed in the not-too-distant past. Puddle Jumpers has taken the best parts of each growth story, heeded the alarms and cautions, and learned from the outright mistakes. The result is the plan for Puddle Jumpers Airlines, the airline for today's marketplace.