‘We Op­er­ate More Flights to In­dia than China’

If a win-win sit­u­a­tion arises, we would be look­ing at a part­ner­ship with Vis­tara

The Economic Times - - Companies: Pursuit Of Profit -

Lufthansa’s agree­ment with Eti­had thas not changed the Ger­man air­line’s po­si­tion on sub­si­dies to Gulf car­ri­ers, said Carsten Spohr, CEO of Lufthansa Group. In an in­ter­view with Mi­hir Mishra, Spohr said that In­dia is a more im­por­tant mar­ket than China for Lufthansa, which has in­tro­duced its first Air­bus 350 flight on the In­dia route. Edited Ex­cerpts:

Re­cently, you an­nounced a part­ner­ship with a Mid­dle Eastern car­rier (Eti­had). Does it mean that you have shed your op­po­si­tion on sub­si­dies to Gulf car­ri­ers? First of all, our po­si­tion to­wards Gulf car­ri­ers has not changed when it comes to sub­si­dies. Lufthansa not only op­poses sub­si­dies but also be­lieves that any kind of trade, in­clud­ing avi­a­tion, can only be as open as it is fair. The World Trade Or­ga­ni­za­tion (WTO), which puts open­ness and fair­ness into re­la­tion for other in­dus­tries, should also be the in­stru­ment in mea­sur­ing how fair and open avi­a­tion be. As a mat­ter of fact, that po­si­tion has not changed. We found a win-win sit­u­a­tion with Eti­had, con­sid­er­ing the whole group of Lufthansa. The group got con­tracts for cater­ing and Main­te­nance Re­pair and Over­haul (MRO), and there is a very im­por­tant pack­age for Eurow­ings through the Air Ber­lin wet lease agree­ment. Then there is also the ele­ment of four code­shares.

How does this pact change things for the In­dia busi­ness of Lufthansa, which com­petes with the Mid­dle Eastern car­rier on flights in and out of In­dia? It does not change any­thing for the In­dian op­er­a­tions. I still com­plain about un­fair trade and sub­si­dies and all of us do, and will con­tinue to do that. I would like to add here that I am re­ally glad that the In­dian gov­ern­ment has re­alised that this is un­fair and lim­ited the bi­lat­eral en­ti­tle­ments to car­ri­ers within a cer­tain ra­dius of In­dia (Civil avi­a­tion pol­icy al­lowed open skies for coun­tries be­yond 5,000 km from In­dia, ex­clud­ing Mid­dle Eastern coun­tries). We have been dis­cussing this with the In­dian gov­ern­ment for decades now.

How does the deal ben­e­fit an In­dian trav­eller? Jet Air­ways is part of the Eti­had Group and has been a part­ner of Lufthansa. We are look­ing into more flights with Jet Air­ways in the frame­work of Lufthansa and the Eti­had Group work­ing with each other, but not in the near fu­ture. Our fo­cus, as of now, is on our own op­er­a­tions. We op­er­ate 10 flights a day, which is more than what we op­er­ate to China – peo­ple some­time for­get this. We have 3,000 pas­sen­gers a day to and from In­dia, which is an im­por­tant mar­ket for us. Once again, we have in­tro­duced our new­est air­craft (Air­bus 350) to this mar­ket — mak­ing it the first coun­try in the world to re­ceive our Air­bus 350 flight. When­ever we have a new air­craft, we bring it into In­dia, which shows the im­por­tance this mar­ket holds for us. We will soon in­tro­duce Air­bus 350 op­er­a­tions on the Mum­bai route too. Plus, Brus­sels Air will also op­er­ate to In­dia by March-end with five flights on the Mum­bai-Brus­sels route.

The In­dian mar­ket has also reg­is­tered high­est pas­sen­ger growth in the world for over a year now. Would you be look­ing at en­ter­ing the In­dian mar­ket by buy­ing stake in an In­dian car­rier? No. I think the in­vest­ments by Lufthansa Group into air­lines are fo­cused on the Euro­pean mar­ket, as of now. But our Star Al­liance part­ner Sin­ga­pore Air­lines, along with the Tata Group, has in­vested in an air­line in the coun­try. If a win-win sit­u­a­tion arises, we would be look­ing at a part­ner­ship with them (Vis­tara). This part of the world is not Lufthansa in­vest­ments.

Air­lines such as United are say­ing that TV screens be­hind seats will be a thing of the past. In this age of iPad, iPhone and An­droid phones, they be­lieve they can save costs on screens and in­stead pro­vide wi-fi for a charge? Do you think this idea will work for air­lines? Our new Air­bus 350s on the In­dia route of­fers both the op­tions of in­flight screens as well as pair­ing your de­vice to stream movies. I used it for the first time yes­ter­day in our Air­bus 350s. You may be right that the IFE screens will dis­ap­pear even­tu­ally but our pas­sen­gers, as of now, en­joy it. On the flight, I walked in­side the air­craft and found that a num­ber of pas­sen­gers were us­ing it. Our Air­bus 350s also of­fer big­ger screens. This is long-haul but we are rolling out stream­ing op­tions along with wifi on short-haul flights. So, short-haul may move to a no-screen regime, but long-hauls will still have it.

Are part­ner­ships or joint ven­tures fu­ture for the avi­a­tion in­dus­try? Lufthansa ear­lier ac­quired Swiss and Aus­trian, and re­cently bought Bel­gium­based Brus­sels Air­lines, which will also start op­er­a­tions to In­dia. So, Lufthansa is play­ing its role in Europe and I would wait for my friends in other parts of the world to play their role in con­sol­i­da­tion to make us an even health­ier in­dus­try.

PHOTO: AMRENDRA JHA

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