Japan's ANA charts course through COVID-19 with loans, domestic flights and accounting rules

Japan's ANA charts course through COVID-19 with loans, domestic flights and accounting rules

A man works near an All Nippon Airways' (ANA) air plane parked at Haneda airport in Tokyo
File photo of an ANA airplane parked at Haneda airport in Tokyo. (File photo: REUTERS/Yuya Shino)

TOKYO: Japan's biggest airline, ANA, has turned to billions of dollars in loans and a government tourism campaign to weather the slump in air travel and could take advantage of accounting rules to avoid aircraft write-downs.

Like other carriers, ANA has been burning through cash to maintain jets that are either grounded or flying with too few passengers during the coronavirus pandemic, pushing it to an operating loss of ¥159 billion (US$1.51 billion) for the April to June quarter.

Sources told Reuters on Wednesday (Oct 14) that ANA Holdings has secured US$3.8 billion in subordinated loans from state-backed and private lenders.

That means it will have raised US$13.29 billion of debt to cope with the coronavirus fallout, says Yasuhito Tsuchiya, a senior analyst at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities.

"It looks like they will have enough to survive," said Tsuchiya, who forecasts the carrier is on course for a record operating loss of around ¥400 billion for the full year ending Mar 31.

READ: From trips to nowhere to 'flying lessons', how airlines are keeping afloat amid the COVID-19 pandemic

The airline is slashing personnel costs through redundancies and pay cuts. Along with rival Japan Airlines (JAL), it is also getting government help including a waiver on airport landing fees, as Tokyo sees the carriers as crucial to keeping Japan, a 3,000km archipelago stretching along the edge of East Asia, connected.

ANA, which reported a negative cashflow from operations of ¥135 billion for April to June, has said it doesn't expect its international air travel to fully recover until 2024.

It has more than 300 planes, including Airbus A380 super jumbos and twin-aisle jets such as the Boeing 787 Dreamliners, and owns two thirds of its fleet while leasing the rest.

At the end of June ANA said its aircraft were worth ¥1.14 trillion (US$10.83 billion), almost unchanged from the previous year, but analysts say that is probably not a true reflection of their current market value.

Keeping planes that are grounded or underutilised could prove expensive because of parking and maintenance fees, which last business year cost ANA ¥177 billion.

Write-downs on some of them could add to a bottom line loss, but would allow the carrier to reduce depreciation charges in a boost to future earnings.

Analysts, however, say ANA could instead take advantage of international aviation accounting rules that don't force it to revalue planes to reflect market prices, allowing it to avoid painful write-downs and the need to raise equity.

"ANA has too many big aircraft, The loss of value calculated on the current market, would be enormous, so there is no way they can sell them," said Hajime Tozaki, an economics professor at JF Oberlin University in Tokyo and a former JAL employee.

READ: COVID-19 grounded thousands of planes. Here’s what happens to them

Aviation consultant IBA this month estimated the value of aircraft owned by airlines had dropped US$60 billion, or 40 per cent lower than what they would be if supply and demand were balanced.

"Finding buyers right now at any price is rather difficult, except lessors who are looking to find bargains at low prices," said Teal Group aerospace analyst Richard Aboulafia.


Tsuchiya said ANA and JAL have the advantage of a large domestic market with few competitors to help temper losses that other big Asian airlines like Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific Airways lack.

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ANA was the world's ninth largest airline this summer based on seat capacity, up from 15th a year ago, according to data firm OAG, due to the relative strength of that home market.

Before the pandemic, ANA generated over half its revenue from domestic flights and demand has rebounded helped by the government's "Go to Travel" campaign launched in July to revive domestic tourism, which offers to pay up to half the cost of trips.

Domestic bookings in October are around 50 per cent of last year, the ANA spokeswoman said, while the carrier has said international traffic is at 5 per cent of levels seen in 2019.

ANA, which must repay around ¥200 billion in debt in the coming year, is due to release results for the July to September quarter on Oct 27.

The Japanese government announced further help for carriers on Friday, saying it would reduce airport landing fees by a record 45 per cent on all domestic flights for seven months through February.

"The government needs both JAL and ANA as national flag carriers," said Tozaki.

Source: Reuters/dv