The competitive strength of Asian network airlines in competing with low-cost carriers and the use of low-cost subsidiaries
2016-06-27T15:25:23Z (GMT) by
While 3.3 billion people flew worldwide in 2014 a large number of these were from developed countries. It is emerging countries which offer the greatest potential for future air traffic growth, with forecasts suggesting that 7.3 billion people will fly by 2034. The greatest proportion of this traffic will be in the Asia-Pacific region where there is already high low-cost carrier penetration. Given increasing price-based competition within short-haul markets, there are many significant challenges in terms of how Asian network airlines respond to LCC competition, and a popular response is the use of low-cost subsidiaries. Thus, the aims of this research are to establish the sources of competitive advantage of Asian airlines generally, and to examine the competitive responses of Asian network airlines and the strategic capabilities of them in competing with low-cost carriers, with a particular focus upon the use of low-cost subsidiaries. This research is underpinned with competitive advantage theory, particularly the resource-based view which concerns the internal environment of firms where each firm possesses a collection of unique resources and capabilities that provide the foundation for competitive strategy. For this research, data were collected from 49 senior airline management personnel using questionnaire surveys, resource surveys, and semi-structured interviews. The data were then analysed using VRIN analysis, the importance and difficulty of 37 competitive responses, strategic capability analysis, and the product and organisational architecture model. The results found that both a strong strategy and stable leadership are crucial. The strategies of Asian network airlines must be flexible to respond appropriately to competitive threats as they materialise, with this responsiveness contributing to the attainment of competitive advantage. Out of an analysed 36 intangible resources, the top resources for competitive advantage and responding to competitive threats for Asian airlines generally are slots, brand, and product and service reputation, with the importance of these based more on being hard to copy than valuable. Each analysed airline business model has a relatively distinct core bundle of intangible resources which explains the internal sources of their competitive advantage. The need for Asian network airlines to strengthen their competitive advantage and their ability to compete is because low-cost carriers impact them in many ways, most notably through a reduction in market share and reduced yields given the key motivation of customers within short-haul markets and economy class is now price and value-for-money. Asian network airlines are most likely to respond to low-cost carriers if they focus upon their core markets, grow their market share, and target the core higher-yielding passengers on which network airlines rely. In such instances, Asian network airlines should respond by focusing more on their brands and meeting the needs of their core targeted market segments. There is a strong positive correlation between profit margin and the strategic capability to compete with low-cost carriers. Yet, Asian network airlines have relatively weak capabilities overall. While Vietnam Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, and Garuda Indonesia are reasonably well placed to compete, network airlines from Northeast Asia, in particular, must strengthen their capabilities especially as Japan, China, and Taiwan are witnessing fast low-cost carrier growth. However, the possession of a strong capability does not mean it is fully or properly leveraged. To compete more effectively with low-cost carriers, the most important competitive responses, based upon analysis of 37 responses, are the ability of management to quickly introduce changes, leveraging brand strength, and increasing aircraft utilisation. Based on the relationship between the importance and difficulty of responses, the most crucial responses for competitive advantage of Asian network airlines are reducing costs to within 30% of LCCs and increasing aircraft utilisation. If achieved, these should lead to meaningful sustained advantage. Low-cost subsidiaries are easier to implement than for network airlines to significantly reduce costs, change to one fleet, or reduce the use of direct distribution, which may explain their popularity within Asia and them being a borderline very essential competitive response. For network airlines, low-cost subsidiaries are a more effective way to compete with low-cost carriers, to participate in the growth of the budget segment, a means of operating uneconomic routes, and to remove unprofitable customers. Network airlines can then focus upon their core market segments and their core competencies. However, their creation is reactive and not proactive which undermines their effectiveness, likewise that low-cost subsidiaries suffer from poor profitability, higher costs, and much smaller size and scale than their key low-cost competitors. This research recommends that Asian network airlines strengthen their existing and primary sources of competitive advantage while pursuing new sources of advantage. While the strategic capabilities of Asian network airlines have strengthened over time, it is essential that they are further strengthened and fully acted upon given increasing competitiveness. The use of low-cost subsidiaries will continue, but it is crucial for themselves and their parent network airlines that they improve their ability to compete and thereby their performance.