Air Berlin defies ash cloud and snow chaos

Air Berlin managed to raise its passenger figures despite the ash cloud and chaotic weather conditions last year.The company, which cooperates with Austrian FlyNiki, said today (Tues) it had 33.6 million customers in 2010, 3.8 per cent more than in the previous year. Air Berlin explained FlyNiki’s passenger numbers were considered in its annual business figures.Air Berlin – Germany’s second-biggest aviation firm after Lufthansa – was forced to cancel around 3,500 flights following air traffic authority Eurocontrol’s decision to prevent service on some of the continent’s major routes for several days in the first half of last year.Firm chief Joachim Hunold said last August many customers had hesitated to book flights after air traffic had been cancelled following the eruption of Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajokull and the ensuing ash cloud that had covered Europe for weeks.The business of Air Berlin and many other airlines was hampered at the end of last year when some of Europe’s biggest airports struggled with wintery conditions.Air Berlin, which has 8,300 staff, announced today its load factor declined by 0.7 per cent year on year to 76.8 per cent in 2010. The company however also pointed out that it increased its capacities by 4.7 per cent to 43.7 million seats at the same time.FlyNiki offers flights from Vienna International Airport (VIA) and five more Austrian airports, while Air Berlin focuses on operations at Salzburg Airport. The number of Austrians booking Air Berlin flights may increase significantly next year as the company will offer three connections per week between Friedrichshafen Airport to Palma on the Spanish island of Majorca from April.Friedrichshafen in the German province of Baden-Württemberg is located only a few kilometres from the German-Austrian border. Majorca is one of the most popular holiday destinations of Germans and Austrians.Air Berlin announced today it will use 174-seat Airbus A320 jets for the new service between Friedrichshafen and the major city of the island situated in the Mediterranean Sea.Air Berlin holds a 49.9 per cent interest in FlyNiki, the Vienna-based company headed by former racing driver Niki Lauda. FlyNiki is expected to present its 2010 business figures soon. The airlines have been cooperating since 2006.FlyNiki has 450 employees. The company, which was founded in 2003, recorded 2.6 million passengers in 2009.The bosses of Air Berlin, FlyNiki, Lufthansa and Austrian Airlines (AUA) all harshly criticised new carbon emission taxation systems in Austria and Germany.The federal Austrian government of Social Democrats (SPÖ) and the People’s Party (ÖVP) announced last year every flight ticket will be charged with eight to 40 Euros depending on the destinations from April 2011. The announcement came just weeks after the German government formed by the Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU) and the Free Democratic Party (FDP) agreed upon a similar ticket tax ranging between eight and 45 Euros.Airline bosses, who are expected to pass the costs on to their customers, warned that the new tax models will harm the country’s economies as Austria and Germany will be the only two states in Europe raking in money by a tax on flight tickets.Lauda said in October, a few days after the SPÖ-ÖVP coalition announced its plans for the 2011 budget: “I expected FlyNiki to have four million passengers this year. The tax might reduce our customer number by 100,000. This would mean 10 million Euros less turnover.”The businessman added he considered the Austrian ticket tax as “incredibly unfair and anti-social madness.” Lauda said: “I think every Austrian family has the right to fly away for a holiday once a year. Now many families won’t be able to do so.”