Air Berlin starts Klagenfurt – Dusseldorf connection

Bosses at Klagenfurt Airport were relieved to hear the announcement that Air Berlin is launching a connection to one of Germany’s biggest airports today (Thurs), while the public debate about a planned tax on flight tickets intensifies.The German low cost carrier, which cooperates with Vienna-based FlyNiki, started operating between the airport in the provincial capital of Carinthia and Dusseldorf. Air Berlin is understood to increase the number of weekly flights from two to three next month.The launch of Air Berlin’s Klagenfurt – Dusseldorf flight comes only days after Ryanair made clear it would stop operating flights between Klagenfurt and Frankfurt-Hahn, Germany, from March 2011.The Irish airline said it decided to axe the route as a sign of protest against the upcoming Austrian flight ticket tax.The federal government announced last month that every ticket for a flight from Austria to a country in Europe or overseas would be charged by an amount between eight and 35 Euros depending on the destination from next April. The German government coalition recently passed a similar levy in the parliament in Berlin.This bad news for Klagenfurt Airport came on the heels of an announcement by Austrian Airlines (AUA) that it would stop operating an early morning link between the city and the Austrian capital Vienna from this month.AUA argued the 6am flight had not been profitable, while Carinthian businessmen voiced claims the decision would make it more difficult for them to attend appointments in Vienna. AUA said it had no plans to abandon the Klagenfurt – Vienna flight departing at 8am.Klagenfurt Airport, which opened in 1925, is located around four kilometres from the city centre. It recorded more than 410,000 passengers and almost 32,000 flights last year.Meanwhile, the discussion over whether the planned ticket tax will help the coalition boost its income next year continues.FlyNiki CEO Niki Lauda warned that Austria’s whole economy may fall behind in competition if the government of Social Democrats (SPÖ) and People’s Party (ÖVP) failed to make a U-turn on the issue. The businessman branded the tax as “incredibly unfair”.Lauda also revealed he considered relocating his firm’s operations from Vienna to Bratislava. Tens of thousands of Austrians book connections departing from the Slovakian capital every year. Budget airlines make the majority of carriers operating at the aerodrome which is located just 80 kilometres from the Austrian capital.AUA co-chief Peter Malanik claimed the levy would throw back his firm in its attempts to get back in the black. German airline Lufthansa, which acquired a major stake in AUA last year, announced recently it expected the former Austrian flagship carrier to make a profit next year.Malanik also stressed it was unclear to him how the SPÖ and ÖVP planned to introduce the tax. He said: “We have already sold many tickets for flights next year. Is the government planning to charge these tickets retrospectively. And if so, how?”Lufthansa head Wolfgang Mayrhuber said: “Austria expected Lufthansa to be a reliable partner when AUA was in trouble. We are expecting the same reliability now.”The Austrian, who will be resigning as executive chief of the aviation giant by the end of this year, warned: “AUA is not over the worst yet.”Lauda, Malanik and Mayrhuber agreed airports in the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Switzerland, and Slovakia would benefit immensely while Vienna International Airport (VIA) and other Austrian aerodromes must brace for a decline in passengers.The flight ticket taxation model is part of a vast package of austerity measures SPÖ and ÖVP agreed upon some weeks ago. While the increase of mineral oil tax rates and other changes came as little surprise, think tanks did not expect the coalition to set up a tax on flight tickets.SPÖ and ÖVP hope the measures will help to reduce the budget deficit by 2013 when the next general elections are due. The annual deficit soared by 3.5 per cent to 3.9 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) year on year in 2009. The 2010 deficit is currently estimated at a whopping 4.5 per cent.The effects of the global crisis have been identified as a main cause for the development. Analysts, however, also pointed out that former Freedom Party (FPÖ) Finance Minister Karl-Heinz Grasser managed to present low deficit rates by outsourcing loss-making departments of state-owned companies like Federal Railways (ÖBB) and motorway authority Asfinag. Some of his successors decided to do the same to whitewash the figures, they claimed, stressing that this procedure has been criticised by the European Union (EU).The government’s budget plans for the next three years have been widely criticised for lacking long-sighted measures. Opponents also accused the SPÖ-ÖVP coalition of forcing the poor and young families to bear the brunt, while banks have been supported with state aid of billions of Euros.Only 21 per cent of Austrians consider the 2011 budget – which features a reduction of family subsidies – as fair, according to a survey by OGM.The institute also revealed SPÖ Chancellor Werner Faymann and ÖVP Finance Minister Josef Pröll have suffered in popularity recently. Just 22 per cent (August: 25 per cent) of Austrians would support Faymann were they given the chance to elect the chancellor in a direct vote. Pröll would garner only 19 per cent (August: 23 per cent), while the popularity of FPÖ chief Heinz-Christian Strache is seen as soaring. The rightist opposition party leader would bag 16 per cent, up by eight per cent compared to a poll last August.