The FINANCIAL -- Air Canada on April 30 reported first quarter 2018 EBITDAR (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, amortization, impairment and aircraft rent) of $397 million compared to first quarter 2017 EBITDAR of $366 million.
Air Canada reported an operating loss of $14 million compared to an operating loss of $30 million in the first quarter of 2017. The airline reported an adjusted pre-tax loss of $72 million in the first quarter of 2018 compared to an adjusted pre-tax loss of $63 million in the prior year's quarter. On a GAAP basis, in the first quarter of 2018, Air Canada reported a loss before income taxes of $184 million, which included losses on foreign exchange of $112 million, compared to a loss before income taxes of $13 million, which included gains on foreign exchange of $70 million, in the first quarter of 2017, according to Air Canada.
Special items are excluded from Air Canada's reported EBITDAR calculations. See below for a description of the special item recorded in the first quarter of 2017.
"We are pleased with our strong results in the first quarter, historically the most challenging of the year for airlines in Canada. Alongside the record quarterly and annual results we have previously reported, our performance in this more challenging quarter affirms Air Canada's progress towards consistent earnings and long-term, sustained profitability," said Calin Rovinescu, President and Chief Executive Officer.
"We generated record first quarter passenger revenue of $3.5 billion, with traffic growth of 11.4 per cent outstripping a capacity increase of 8.6 per cent. Given the cost discipline we've developed, we delivered better than expected adjusted CASM and overall cost performance in the first quarter. We achieved record unrestricted liquidity of $4.9 billion and a leverage ratio(1) of 2.0, further reducing our risk profile and positioning us towards investment grade. The demand environment continues to show strength, and our advance bookings are in line with expectations. We remain well positioned to compete effectively and adapt to variables, with the launch of new products and fare offerings, cost reductions and other levers at our disposal.
"I thank our employees for their hard work safely transporting and caring for our customers during the quarter, particularly during periods of extreme weather, including the recent severe ice storm at our Toronto global hub. Their unwavering focus on our customers' needs as a crucial part of our ongoing transformation is evident in all aspects of our operation, from rising customer satisfaction scores to cost improvements that have contained adjusted unit cost increases below our own projections. Finally, I am pleased that our customers are increasingly recognizing the strides we have made and thank them for their patronage and loyalty in choosing Air Canada," said Mr. Rovinescu.
First Quarter Income Statement Highlights
In the first quarter of 2018, on capacity growth of 8.6 per cent, record system passenger revenues of $3.489 billion increased $369 million or 11.8 per cent from the first quarter of 2017. The increase in system passenger revenues was driven by traffic growth of 11.4 per cent and a yield improvement of 0.4 per cent. An increase in average stage length of 3.9 per cent had the effect of reducing system yield by 2.2 percentage points. On a stage-length adjusted basis, system yield increased 2.6 per cent year-over-year.
In the business cabin, system passenger revenues increased $88 million or 13.8 per cent from the first quarter of 2017 on traffic and yield growth of 9.1 per cent and 4.3 per cent, respectively.
In the first quarter of 2018, operating expenses of $4.085 billion increased $413 million or 11 per cent from the same quarter in 2017, mainly driven by the increase in capacity and higher fuel prices year-over-year.
Air Canada's cost per available seat mile (CASM) increased 2.4 per cent from the first quarter of 2017. The airline's adjusted CASM(1) increased 0.4 per cent from the prior year's quarter, better than the 2.0 to 3.0 percent increase projected in Air Canada's news release dated February 16, 2018. This improvement was mainly due to lease extensions that were negotiated earlier than anticipated, which resulted in a decrease to maintenance provisions in the first quarter of 2018, timing of certain maintenance events previously scheduled for the first quarter of 2018 (the majority of which was moved to the second quarter of 2018), and the impact of initiatives related to Air Canada's $250 million Cost Transformation Program.
Air Canada recorded an adjusted net loss(1) of $52 million or $0.19 per diluted share in the first quarter of 2018 compared to an adjusted net loss of $63 million or $0.23 per diluted share in first quarter of 2017. On a GAAP basis, the airline reported a first quarter 2018 net loss of $170 million or $0.62 per diluted share compared to a first quarter 2017 net loss of $13 million or $0.05 per diluted share. In the first quarter of 2018, Air Canada recorded losses on foreign exchange of $112 million compared to gains on foreign exchange of $70 million in the first quarter of 2017.
In the first quarter of 2017, Air Canada recorded a provision of $30 million relating to a fine which was reinstated by a decision of the European Commission pertaining to cargo investigations. Air Canada paid the fine in the second quarter of 2017, pending the outcome of its appeal of the decision.
Financial and Capital Management Highlights
At March 31, 2018, unrestricted liquidity (cash, short-term investments and undrawn lines of credit) amounted to 4.883 billion, the highest level in Air Canada's history (December 31, 2017 – $4.181 billion).
At March 31, 2018, adjusted net debt of $6.063 billion decreased $53 million from December 31, 2017. In the first quarter of 2018, the increase in cash and short-term investment balances of $692 million more than offset the increase in long-term debt and finance lease balances of $618 million. At March 31, 2018, Air Canada's leverage ratio(1) was 2.0 versus 2.1 at December 31, 2017.
Record net cash flows from operating activities of $1.111 billion improved $84 million compared to the first quarter of 2017. Free cash flow(1) of $193 million in the first quarter of 2018 decreased $277 million from the first quarter of 2017 mainly due to Air Canada having received proceeds from the sale and leaseback of aircraft in the first quarter of 2017.
For the 12 months ended March 31, 2018, return on invested capital (ROIC(1)) was 15.0 per cent, significantly higher than Air Canada's weighted average cost of capital of 7.7 per cent. Air Canada updated its methodology to calculate ROIC, as described in the section below entitled "Non-GAAP Measures".
In addition to reaffirming its EBITDAR margin, ROIC, free cash flow and leverage ratio targets discussed in its September 19, 2017 Investor Day news release, Air Canada is providing the following guidance:
Full Year 2018 Free Cash Flow
Air Canada continues to expect positive free cash flow in the range of $250 to $500 million in 2018. Air Canada is not planning any sale-leaseback transactions in 2018.