Since merging with US Airways in late 2013, American Airlines Group (NASDAQ:AAL) has reported a series of record quarterly profits. American Airlines continued that streak last week. The company's Q3 adjusted profit rose 59% year over year to $1.2 billion.
On Thursday afternoon, American Airlines' management team spent an hour talking about the company's earnings, the merger integration process, and future trends. Here are five key points that the management team tried to convey to investors.
The merger integration process is going smoothly
On the integration front we've made great progress so far ... [b]ut we still have much to do and bigger items like single operating certificate and reservations migration will occur in 2015. But the great work by our teams thus far gives us confidence that we are on the right track.
-- Doug Parker, American Airlines CEO
One of the biggest things on investors' minds is the merger integration process. Almost all major airline mergers have hit some type of setback during the integration process -- including US Airways' previous merger with America West.
So far, everything has gone smoothly at American Airlines. That said, the biggest hurdles won't occur until 2015, namely the move to a single frequent flyer program and a single reservations system. The frequent flyer programs are tentatively scheduled to be combined in Q2 next year, while the reservation system migration will happen later in 2015.
Investors should be satisfied about American Airlines' progress so far, but the key to its success over the next few years lies in navigating these big customer-facing changes scheduled for 2015.
New competition in Dallas isn't causing problems
... [F]rom October 13 when the Wright Amendment went away through the end of October, we expect PRASM in the markets that have new nonstop competition from Love Field to be up 3%. So even though it is early we are off to a good start in that competition.
-- Scott Kirby, American Airlines President
One of the biggest question marks surrounding American Airlines' near-term trajectory has been the opening up of Love Field in Dallas for long-haul flights. This will give Southwest Airlines (and to a lesser extent, Virgin America) the ability to compete more effectively with American Airlines' massive Dallas-Fort Worth hub.
Back in July, American's management stated that it was too early to gauge the impact of this change. On Thursday, the management team seemed much more confident. President Scott Kirby reported that for the first few weeks of this new competitive environment, American Airlines expects to post unit revenue gains in the markets with new competing flights.
Obviously, it's still early. Indeed, Southwest Airlines and Virgin America have not yet rolled out their full flight schedules at Love Field. Nevertheless, the early signs suggest that any impact on American's business in the Dallas-Fort Worth area will be very manageable.
Reacting quickly to supply and demand
In Latin America we have cut 14% of our planned capacity in 4Q, going from a 12% planned growth rate to a year-over-year reduction in capacity. And across the Atlantic we have reduced capacity by over 6% from prior plans, going from an almost 5% planned growth rate to a 2% year-over-year reduction in capacity.
-- Scott Kirby
American Airlines also demonstrated for investors that while it is growing, it remains committed to matching capacity with demand. International markets have been a trouble spot for all three legacy carriers lately, primarily due to the rapid growth of various foreign airlines.
As a result, American Airlines has dramatically slashed its international capacity growth plans for Europe and Latin America in the past few months. American is still forging ahead with rapid growth in Asia, though. That's because it has an undersized presence there today, and management sees growth in Asia as a critical long-term strategic investment.
On the whole, this shows that Doug Parker and his team are doing a good job of balancing the dual priorities of long-term growth and short-term profitability.
Cheaper jet fuel just means higher profits
Well, we don't plan to grow capacity because fuel price has declined and we have been in this industry long enough to know that that can turn in a hurry ... In the near term I think that will all just go to the bottom line.
-- Scott Kirby
With jet fuel prices having plummeted by $0.40/gallon since early September, investors and the traveling public have both wondered whether this might lead to more flight options and cheaper airfares. An industrywide fare increase that occurred earlier this month shows that this probably won't happen.
American Airlines threw more cold water on the idea that lower fuel prices should lead to an immediate change in capacity or airfares. Oil prices have spiked too often in the past decade for airlines to cut prices or add planes based on a brief dip. Scott Kirby stated that lower jet fuel prices will just mean better profits in the short term.
That showed up clearly in American Airlines' Q4 forecast. The company is projecting a 10%-12% pre-tax margin -- in line with Q3, which is usually a much more profitable quarter.
Moving toward bigger planes
And as airfares have declined in the United States, it is important to be able to fly big airplanes with as many customers as possible on them. So we are flying the largest aircraft -- in almost all cases, the largest aircraft in each class.
-- Scott Kirby
One of the biggest trends in the U.S. airline industry in the last few years has been the move toward larger planes on domestic flights. Small regional jets are increasingly being retired in favor of large regional jets, while small narrowbodies are being replaced by larger narrowbody aircraft.
American Airlines plans to continue promoting this shift. As the biggest airline in the world, and with several big hubs, it can generate enough traffic to fill larger planes. This allows American to benefit from the significantly lower unit costs of larger planes, which in turn makes it more competitive with low-cost carriers.
Clear skies ahead
American Airlines still faces a few key hurdles in completing its merger integration process. Investors should keep an eye on its progress on this front in 2015.
However, for the moment, American Airlines appears to be in great shape. It is weathering increased competition in several markets quite well, while benefiting from cheaper jet fuel. If it can harvest its expected merger synergies in the next couple of years, American has a good shot to become the most profitable airline in the world by 2016.
Adam Levine-Weinberg has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.