Setting the scene
“Cash is king” during a financial crisis, CFO’s from VietJet and JetBlue Airways agreed during the CFO panel at the IATA World Air Transport Summit. JetBlue’s CFO, Ursula Hurley said in 2020 at the height of the COVID-19 crisis, revenue plummeted 90% and the airline was burning through $18 million in cash a day. Hurley said her top priority was fundraising: “How do I get as much cash as possible?” The airline was able to raise $1 billion in five days.
Ho Ngoc Yen Phoung of VietJet also emphasized the importance of cash and cited the importance of negotiations with suppliers, financial institutions and vendors to reduce cash going out the door. Hurley noted that JetBlue was able to push $2 billion of capex out to future years.
With the crisis now receding, rebuilding balance sheets is coming into focus, the CFOs agreed. Hurley said JetBlue entered the crisis with the second strongest balance sheet in the industry with a debt/capitalization ratio of around 30-40%. It peaked at close to 65%, she said, and has now gotten it back down to near 54%.
The CFOs take a different approach to fuel hedging, with VietJet currently hedged between 30-50%, while JetBlue has no hedges on the book. “I wish we did”, Hurley said. Typically JetBlue might have 10-25% of its fuel position hedged.