What Does Bankruptcy Mean For HNA's Dwindling Empire?

Hainan Airlines aircraft
Hainan Airlines is the largest carrier in the HNA Group and is ranked fourth in China’s domestic market.
Credit: byeangel/Wikimedia

This is an abbreviated version of the article - Bankruptcy Deals Another Blow To HNA’s Dwindling Empire.

Even by the volatile standards of the airline industry, the rise and fall of China’s HNA Group has been spectacular. Bankruptcy proceedings represent the latest step in the unraveling of the group’s ambitious global expansion, which could lead to the divestment of more of its aviation holdings.

HNA ran up massive debt as it acquired stakes in aviation companies across the globe and branched into other sectors. But its financial headaches—magnified by the COVID-19 crisis—have proved to be too tough for the group to address itself, and HNA’s creditors filed a petition on Jan. 29 to restructure the company through the bankruptcy system.

Read the full article to discover more about the possible restructuring, fleet adjustments and corporate implications. 

However, the HNA Group still holds an extensive airline portfolio with at least 14 carriers in China and Hong Kong. In some cases, these are majority owned, and in others it holds a smaller stake. The web of ownership links between the subsidiaries and the parent are extremely complex.

HNA is the latest of several Asia-Pacific airline companies to find itself in bankruptcy court—whether voluntarily or involuntarily—since the COVID-19 crisis began. But HNA Group’s financial woes and shaky condition predate the pandemic, and the recent sharp drop in demand and revenue was the final straw.

The group expanded dramatically during the past decade through acquisition or investment in dozens of companies in China and overseas. HNA overextended itself in the process and ran up massive debt, so in 2018 it began to divest some of its holdings.

Read more about why HNA’s finances have attracted increasing scrutiny from Chinese regulators.

There will likely be significant interest in HNA’s airlines if it does seek investors or buyers for these companies. Some of the carriers are part-owned by provincial governments, and they may be willing to increase their stakes. China’s larger airline groups would no doubt be keen to add more carriers to their stables if the opportunity arises.

Hainan Airlines, the HNA Group’s cornerstone member, has a strong brand and an attractive domestic network. Nevertheless, the carrier is being dragged down by the group’s financial travails as well as the pandemic. The airline estimates a net loss of up to 65 billion yuan ($10.1 billion) in 2020, versus a 543.2 million yuan profit in the previous year.

There could be significant fleet implications if restructuring results in cuts or downsizing for HNA’s airlines. The main 14 carriers in this group have a total of 550 aircraft, according to the CAPA Fleet Database. However, 179 of these are currently inactive. Narrowbodies make up 73.9% of the group’s collective fleet.

Learn more about Hainan Airlines largest fleet in the group and discover the number of leased aircrafts HNA Group has.

The fallout for stakeholders is hard to gauge until more details of HNA’s restructuring emerge. It may simply accelerate the divestment process that has been underway for some time, or it could lead to a more extensive breakup that would have broader market ramifications.

Despite HNA’s contraction, China’s airline market remains fundamentally strong. Annual domestic and international growth was robust before 2020, and Chinese domestic demand has bounced back toward pre-pandemic levels faster than almost any other country. If HNA’s restructuring does result in more consolidation or mergers—and less capacity—this could help decongest the post-COVID-19 industry landscape.

Read the full article - Bankruptcy Deals Another Blow To HNA’s Dwindling Empire - by Adrian Schofield