國泰航空（Cathay Pacific）宣佈收購（acquisition）香港快運（Hong Kong Express），隔日即傳出冰島（Iceland）廉航沃奧航空（WOW Air）突然倒閉（shutdown）的消息，凸顯了亞洲和歐洲廉航市場「冰火兩重天」的局面。事實上，歐洲廉航經過數十年發展已經接近飽和，連同沃奧在內，過去3年間歐洲至少有12家廉航因為倒閉或合併（merger）而消失。分析指出，歐洲航空業入場門檻（threshold）低，大量競爭者湧現引起激烈價格戰（price war），大大壓縮廉航生存空間，加上油價上升和歐元下跌等外圍因素影響，未來區內廉航倒閉恐怕陸續有來。
歐洲廉航業界過去兩年壞消息不斷，單是去年已有接近10家廉航倒閉、賣盤或合併。這情況在今年未有改善，每年乘客量達400萬的德國日耳曼尼亞航空（Germania）於2月，宣佈申請破產（bankruptcy）並停止運作；在冰島市場佔有率（market share）逾1/3的沃奧航空上周四亦宣佈結業。英國的英倫航空（Flybmi）於2月破產停飛，另一家Flybe航空則在本月初以每股1便士作價併入維珍大西洋航空（Virgin Atlantic）。
國際航空運輸協會（International Air Transport Association）（IATA）數字顯示，歐洲民航航班數量較10年前，大幅增長逾4成。航班增幅超過乘客數量增長，結果不少廉航為了爭奪短線客，唯有進一步減價，邊際利潤（marginal profit）愈壓愈低，例如瑞安航空每程平均票價便只需30歐元（約264港元）。市場研究公司Oliver Wyman航空業分析師凡西爾貝表示，歐洲航空業市場門檻較低，導致大量新航空公司成立，加上傳統航空公司亦紛紛成立廉航子公司（subsidiary），使市場出現「無節制競爭」。
開支方面，去年國際油價明顯回升，紐約期油（NYMEX crude oil futures）一度高見每桶75美元，較前年累升約50%，直至年底才再次回落，加上歐元兌美元下跌，種種市場因素均增加歐洲航企成本。另外，歐洲多國近年大幅收緊環保政策，向航企徵收碳排放稅（carbon tax），更令航企經營環境雪上加霜。
歐洲廉航接連倒閉亦構成惡性循環（vicious circle），例如沃奧航空宣佈倒閉時便指出，業界負面消息令債權人（creditor）縮短數期，對公司現金流（cash flow）構成壓力。冬季屬於歐洲旅遊淡季（low season），航空公司很容易因為收入不足而遇上財政困難。顧問公司Ascend分析師莫里斯說：「如果你熬得過冬天，便有機會接到夏季航班的訂單。」
"Winter is coming" for European low-cost airlines
【譯文】While Cathay Pacific announced the acquisition of Hong Kong Express , the news of the shutdown of the budget airline WOW Air in Iceland popped up the next day, reflecting the difficult situation in the market of low-fare airlines in Asia and Europe. Such market in Europe has actually become saturated after decades of development, so that at least 12 low-cost airlines had disappeared over the past three years due to shutdown or merger, including WOW Air. It is believed that the European aviation industry has a low entry threshold which brings about a keen competition and consequently a fierce price war, greatly worsening the business environment of cheap flights; coupled with external factors such as rising fuel prices and falling Euro, further collapse of budget airlines in the region is anticipated.
Recession has been seen in the European low-cost carrier industry over the past two years, and there were closures, acquisitions or mergers of nearly 10 airlines last year. The situation has not been improved so far and the German carrier Germania, despite carrying over 4 million passengers a year, had filed for bankruptcy and ceased all operations in February; and the WOW Air, occupying over one-third of the market share in Iceland, also announced its shutdown last Thursday. Moreover, the British airline Flybmi had also gone bust and stopped its services in February, and another UK airway Flybe was incorporated into the Virgin Atlantic brand at the price of one pence per share early this month.
Ryanair, the largest low-cost carrier in the region, is also under tough conditions that it reported a 20 million Euro （approximately HK$176 million） loss in the fourth quarter last year, which was its first quarterly loss since 2014.
According to the statistics of the International Air Transport Association （IATA）, the number of flights in Europe had increased by more than 40% compared to 10 years ago, which far exceeded the growth in the number of passengers, leading to a vicious competition by keeping prices low. Yet, the marginal profits were getting lower and lower and Ryanair's average fare per trip was even as low as 30 Euro （approximately HK$264）. An aviation industry analyst of the consulting firm Oliver Wyman said the establishment of a large amount of new airlines due to low entry threshold, added with the set-up of low-fare carrier subsidiaries by traditional airlines, had resulted in an uncontrolled competition.
In terms of expenditure, global oil prices rebounded sharply last year and NYMEX crude oil futures traded to US$75 per barrel, which was about 50% higher than the previous year and the prices remained at high levels until end of the year; together with the drop in Euro against US dollar, the operating costs of the European aviation enterprises increased significantly. Furthermore, many European countries have tightened their environmental policies in recent years and imposed carbon taxes on the aviation industry, making the business environment even tougher.
The collapse of the low-cost airlines formed a vicious circle. For example, following the announcement of its shutdown, WOW Air also pointed out that the negative news in the industry had forced creditors to impose stricter terms and hence put pressure on the company's cash flow. In winter which is considered low season for travel in Europe, most airlines often suffer financial difficulties due to insufficient income. An analyst from the consulting firm Ascend said airlines might have a relatively better summer flight sale only if they could get through the tough wintertime.
An analyst of the German rating firm Scope said there were already a large number of competitors in the aviation industry in Europe, such that it was common for smaller airlines to be marginalized. Such airlines were advised to build a niche to specialize in certain markets or develop a huge route network in order to compete with the large groups such as Ryanair, Lufthansa and British Airways.■龐嘉儀
1. 美國西南航空公司（Southwest Airlines）
3. 飛航作業許可證（Air operator certificate）
4. 混合型航空公司（Hybrid carrier）
5. 亞洲航空（Air Asia）、捷星航空（Jetstar Airways）等