Top 5 Emerging Market Airlines

Airlines have been in a tailspin for the past year, but thanks to growth in emerging markets it appearts that major carriers could be pulling out of their gut-wrenching dive — today, the International Air Transport Association lowered its expected total airline losses for 2009 from $11 billion to $9.4 billion.

Being in the red is still not good news, but the improvement shows that the airline industry could be on the mend. That presents some opportunities for investors. Here are five Asian and Latin American airlines to consider that are capitalizing on these trends:

Chile’s LAN Airlines (LFL): LAN Airlines transports passengers throughout its home country and beyond. Together with its regional affiliates, LAN serves more than 60 destinations, mainly in the Americas but also in Europe and the Asia/Pacific region through a fleet of about 70 passenger aircraft. Its subsidiary, LAN Cargo, is one of Latin America’s leading airfreight carriers and operates a fleet of about 10 freighters.

Brazil’s GOL Linhas Aereas Inteligentes (GOL): GOL operates two airlines in Latin America. Its low-fare subsidiary, Gol Transportes Aereos, operating under the Gol brand and serves about 55 destinations mainly within Brazil. The company’s full-service carrier, VRG Linhas Aereas, serves more than 15 destinations in Brazil and elsewhere in South America under the Varig brand. Combined, these two carriers operate a fleet of more than 100 aircraft, nearly all of which are Boeing 737s.

Panama’s Copa Holdings (CPA): Copa transports passengers and cargo across the Americas and the Caribbean. Its main subsidiary, Copa Airlines, serves about 40 destinations in 20 countries from its hub in Panama City, using its fleet of 42 jets. Copa Airlines serves other markets through code-sharing deals with Continental Airlines and other carriers. In addition, Copa Holdings’ Aero Republica serves a dozen cities in Colombia, plus Panama City, with a fleet of about a dozen jets

China Southern Airlines Company (ZNH): ZNH is one of China’s top three airlines, along with China Eastern Air and Air China. It operates a fleet of more than 300 aircraft (mainly Boeing and Airbus jets) from its hub in Guangzhou and about 20 regional bases. The airline serves about 150 destinations, including about 120 throughout China and about 30 in other countries, primarily in the Asia/Pacific region. China Southern Airlines extends its international network via code-sharing partnerships with Delta, KLM and Japan Air. The Chinese government-owned China Southern Air Holding Co. owns over 50% of China Southern Airlines’ stock. (Anytime the Chinese government has a stake in a company, it is almost guaranteed to succeed.)

China Eastern Airlines (CEA): China Eastern Airlines and its subsidiaries provide passenger, cargo, mail delivery and other transportation services in Asia. The company operates a fleet of 240 aircraft, including 214 passenger jets and 11 jet freighters on over 400 passenger routes mainly in mainland China and Taiwan. The company was founded in 1988 and is based in Shanghai.

These are all smaller regional airlines, so they come with a bit more risk than big domestic carriers in the U.S. However each company has a market cap of more than $3 billion so they are not upstarts with no room for error. Each pick owns a large number of aircraft that also allows for flexibility in routes and the possibility of expansion.

The industry is still a bit rocky right now, but these emerging market airlines could have bright futures.

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