Lufthansa seeks Gulf airline restrictions

19 Mar 2012 by ScottCarey7

The German national airline’s CEO, Christoph Franz, has criticised the Gulf carriers for their aggressive European expansion.

“[Our] governments must take action,” he told Germany’s business magazine Wirtshafts Woche. Europe’s politicians should “introduce a capacity limit.”

Europe’s big airlines are coming under growing pressure from Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways.

In the case of Germany, the Gulf carriers are expanding their operations this summer with increased capacity. Emirates is adding more flights and rostering larger planes (see online news March 13).

While there is a new commercial link between Etihad and Germany’s Air Berlin (whereby Air Berlin will feed Etihad’s Abu Dhabi hub). If that wasn’t enough, Qatar Airways has offered flights to the prime industrial city of Stuttgart since March of last year.

At stake are the lucrative flows of traffic which link Europe to Asia, Africa and Australasia. The Gulf carriers score in this regards because they serve regional cities in Europe in addition to the main hubs. 

When it comes to long distance flying, Europe’s big airlines tend to neglect their regional cities. It means a good number of German travellers from the likes of Dusseldorf, Hamburg, Berlin and Stuttgart are happy to change planes at a Gulf airport rather than in the likes of Frankfurt or Munich. 

It’s a similar scenario in the UK where Mancunians or Glaswegians might prefer to route via Dubai or Doha rather than London Heathrow. And it’s a problem which Scandinavia’s SAS will face now that Emirates and Qatar have begun to expand in the region.

As Christoph Franz admitted to Wirtshafts Woche, Emirates already carries far more customers from the business city of Dusseldorf to the growth markets of Asia than does Lufthansa.

Under the terms of their aviation treaties, all three Gulf carriers face restrictions on the number of German cities they can serve. But they are free to offer more seats by using larger planes or operating more flights.

Besides its powerful network, Emirates is a strong competitor to Lufthansa because of good market intelligence. In what might be described as a case of “poacher turned gamekeeper” Emirates sales chief Thierry Antinori was formerly employed by Lufthansa until last year, as board member in charge of sales and marketing (see online news September 12, 2011).

It is not the first time that the Gulf carriers have been criticised for their European expansion (Air France’s former CEO called for EU curbs in 2010, see Bloomberg's report here) and it won’t be the last.

To read the Wirtshafts Woche article (in German) click here.

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Report by Alex McWhirter

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