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要是你的公司依赖波音737 Max会怎么样?问问挪威航空就知道了

Geoffrey Smith 2019年05月20日

旗下超过10%的飞机为波音737 Max的挪威航空公司在经过一系列惊心动魄的财务操作后,现在看起来或许有可能活下来。

挪威航空首席执行官比约恩·肖斯,今年1月该公司宣布将增发股票。图片来源:HEIKO JUNGE AFP/Getty Images

乘坐廉价航班飞往欧洲的未来全系于一家斯堪的纳维亚公司身上。

由于六个月内发生两起机毁人亡事故,波音737 Max在今年3月遭全球停飞。当时许多人都觉得这是挪威航空的“末日”。这家低成本航空公司此前横空出世,占据了跨大西洋航空市场的很大一块份额。

737 MAX占挪威航空所有飞机的10%以上,该公司急需它们投入运营,以便创造现金来偿还70亿美元的债务——这是过去10年来挪航飞速发展的结果。

但两个月后,经过了一系列惊心动魄的财务操作,挪航现在可能“四顾茫然”,但看起来它或许有可能活下来。

跌幅吓人

无可否认,挪航及其投资者很受伤。该公司今年1月发行了大量新股(七个月内的第二次),又筹集了约3.3亿美元资金——同时摊薄了现有股东的股权。但此举未能阻止其股价在4月底创下八年新低,和2015年的高点相比暴跌了80%以上。不过,这些新股降低了今年12月挪航债券违约的可能性。今年1月该债券的收益率下滑逾15%,降至略低于8.7%的水平。

The future of low-cost flights to Europe is hanging by a Scandinavian thread.

When global regulators grounded Boeing’s 737 MAX aircraft in March in response to a second fatal crash in six months, many predicted it could be the end of Norwegian Air Shuttle, the low-cost airline that has come from nowhere to grab a big chunk of the market for transatlantic flights.

The 737 MAX accounted for over 10% of its fleet, and Norwegian desperately needed them in the air, generating cash to pay back the $7 billion in debt it has racked up in a breakneck expansion over the last decade.

But two months and a lot of frenetic financial juggling later, the airline may be flying by the seat of its pants, but it looks like it might—just —survive.

A dire downside

To be sure, the airline—and its investors—are hurting. The company diluted existing investors with a big sale of new shares in January (the second in seven months) that raised some $330 million in new capital. That hasn’t stopped Norwegian’s stock from falling to an eight-year low at the end of April, down over 80% from its 2015 peak. But the new stock has made a default on the airlines’ bonds in December less likely: their yield has fallen from over 15% in January to just under 8.7%.

波音公司首席执行官丹尼斯·米伦伯格。最畅销机型737 Max连续坠机后波音表示今年第一季度其利润下降了21%。图片来源:Photo by Joshua Lott-Pool/Getty Images

挪航预计,这些崭新的波音飞机将至少停飞到8月中旬。也就是说,在关键的夏季,它们几乎都要作壁上观——这将给挪航带来高达5亿挪威克朗的成本,约合5700万美元。

意外之喜

但737 Max停飞也给挪航带来了意外之喜。最重要的是,这让该公司避开了此前过度扩张所产生的影响。两周前,挪航说服波音推迟交付14架新的737 Max。挪航原定于2020和2021年接收这些飞机。今年4月,挪航还和空中客车达成推迟交付协议。据首席财务官盖尔·卡尔森介绍,现在挪航将自身资本支出降低了21亿美元左右,否则该公司可能很难拿出这笔钱来。

更可喜的是,737 Max出现问题意味着波音的其他顾客现在都愿意以更高的价格购买空客320和321,特别是那些来自于快速增长的新兴市场的客户,而挪航在几年前就向空客下了一大笔订单。卡尔森在去年9月曾说,挪航之前订购的全部90架空客飞机几乎都要转让。两周前他又向投资者表示,由于737 Max出了事,挪航订的空客飞机最近“毫无疑问”都升值了。

挪航有些运气,它的竞争对手则尝到了苦头——私募公司Permira和冰岛航空公司Wow Air破产,斯堪的纳维亚旗舰航空公司SAS一直受罢工影响,从而让挪航争夺到了乘客。

出售传闻

这是否足以让挪航的潜在买家鼓起勇气则是另外一个问题。挪航目前股价还不到国际联合航空集团(IAG)去年报价的一半,后者是英国航空和伊比利亚航空的母公司。IAG公司的首席执行官威利·沃尔什没有和挪航达成协议,也未参与竞购。但今年3月沃尔什表示,在重新考虑挪航的问题上他“绝不会说绝不”。

两周前,一直有传闻说要收购挪航的汉莎航空转而选择了英国旅游公司托迈酷客的航空业务,这看来降低了挪航遭竞购的几率。

不久前,IAG披露了第一季度业绩。沃尔什在分析师电话会议上重申,他并未考虑收购挪航:“我们并没有考虑它(挪航),而且我们也不打算采取任何行动……目前没有这种可能。”

依然受困

与此同时,艰难处境迫使挪航压缩规模,把精力集中在核心航线上并砍掉那些边缘性航线。

弗吉尼亚州的一位IT顾问乔伊·道森本应乘坐波音737 Max从纽约州波基普西市附近的斯图尔特机场飞往冰岛西海岸的香农。他要和两位朋友去温泉度假,他们都刚从大学毕业。

现在挪航暂时停飞了这条航线以及另一条飞往爱尔兰科克的航线。作为替代,该公司将用更大的波音737-800将乘客送到都柏林。

挪航发言人菲利普·奥尔博斯说:“我们已经为大多数受影响的人找到了解决方案。”

可以预见,今年夏天挪航要给乘客一大笔补偿金,无论是退票,还是像道森那样由挪航购买从都柏林到香农的火车票。

挪航的首席执行官比约恩·肖斯已经表示将要求波音承担这笔开支。去年挪航曾因航班延误成功拿到了发动机制造商罗尔斯·罗伊斯的赔款,但未披露具体数额。

波音要为737 Max接二连三地发布令人尴尬的公告,挪航则似乎躲开了公关危机。

道森说:“这是个悲剧,我实在不能责怪这家航空公司。这很不方便……但不方便也比有人丧命强。”(财富中文网)

译者:Charlie

审校:夏林

Norwegian expects its shiny new Boeings to be idle at least through mid-August, meaning the jets will sit out almost all of the vital summer season, costing the airline up to 500 million Norwegian kroner or some $57 million.

A surprising upside

But the grounding of the 737 Max has also had surprising upsides for Norwegian. Most importantly, it has allowed it to escape the full consequences of its past over-expansion. Two weeks ago, the airline persuaded Boeing to defer delivery of 14 new MAXes it was due to receive in 2020 and 2021. Together with another deferment agreement Norwegian struck with Airbus in April, Norwegian has now saved itself some $2.1 billion in capital expenditures that it could hardly have afforded otherwise, according to Chief Financial Officer Geir Karlsen.

Even better, the MAX’s troubles mean that Boeing’s other customers—notably those in fast-growing emerging markets—are now willing to pay more to get their hands on the Airbus 320s and 321s that Norwegian rashly ordered in years gone by. Karlsen said last September that virtually all of the 90 Airbus planes it had ordered were essentially up for sale. He told investors two weeks ago that there is “no doubt” that the value of Norwegian’s Airbus orders had risen recently due to the MAX situation.

And the company has enjoyed some luck at the expense of a few competitors: Permira and Iceland-based Wow Air went bust, and the Scandinavian flag carrier SAS has been disrupted by strike action—events that allowed Norwegian to pick up passengers.

Rumors of a sale

Whether that will be enough to embolden possible buyers for the airline is another question. It’s now trading at less than half of what International Consolidated Airlines Group, the parent of British Airways and Iberia, offered to pay for it last year. IAG CEO Willie Walsh walked away from a deal rather than get drawn into a bidding war, but said in March he would “never say never” about looking at the company again.

The chance of a bidding war appeared to recede on Tuesday, as Germany’s Lufthansa, which had also been a rumored buyer, chose to make a move for the airline business of U.K.-based tour operator Thomas Cook instead.

On Friday, IAG reported its first-quarter earnings, with Walsh repeating on a conference call with analysts that the company was not on his radar. “We’re not looking at it (Norwegian) and we’re not intending to do anything…I’m ruling it out, at this stage,” he said.

On-going disruption

In the meantime, hardship has forced Norwegian to be more nimble, concentrating on its core routes and cutting more marginal ones.

Joey Dawson, an IT consultant from Virginia, had been due to fly a 737 MAX from Stewart airport near Poughkeepsie, N.Y., to Shannon on the west coast of Ireland for a spring getaway with two friends, all of them recent college grads.

The airline has now suspended that service, and another one to Cork, and will instead use a larger Boeing 737-800 to fly passengers to Dublin.

“For the majority of people affected, we’ve found a solution,” company spokesman Philip Allports said.

The airline can expect a hefty check for compensating passengers this summer, whether through ticket refunds or, as in Dawson’s case, paying out the cost of a train from Dublin to the original destination of Shannon.

Norwegian CEO Bjorn Kjos has vowed to pass the bill on to Boeing, having succeeded last year in extracting an undisclosed amount of compensation for flight delays from engine maker Rolls-Royce.

And while Boeing stumbles from one embarrassing disclosure to the next over the 737 MAX, Norwegian seems set to escape the public relations fallout.

“I don’t really blame the airline because it’s a tragic event,” says Dawson. “It’s inconvenient…but there’s a point when inconvenience is better than people losing their lives.”

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