Textiles tycoon challenges AUA

A textiles industry businessman has vowed to succeed Austrian Airlines (AUA) in offering flights between St. Gallen-Altenrhein Airport and Vienna International Airport (VIA).Bosses of the St. Gallen-Altenrhein Airport, which is located just a few kilometres from the Swiss-Austrian border, cancelled their cooperation with AUA last October. They explained AUA must stop its service as of 27 March of this year. The airline argued its contract with the airport featured a five-year notice and warned it will go to court if the decision is not taken back.Now Markus Kopf, an Austrian entrepreneur who made a name for himself by building up a string of textile-making companies, said his Peoples Viennaline airline will start operating between St. Gallen-Altenrhein and VIA on 28 March. Kopf told the Salzburger Nachrichten newspaper today (Tues) that the connection would have a potential 60,000 to 70,000 passengers annually.Reports have it that AUA passenger numbers for the service between the Swiss airport and Austria’s busiest aerodrome declined from around 55,000 in 2001 when AUA started operating the route, to fewer than 35,000 last year.Referring to the controversial cancellation of the contract between the Swiss airport and AUA, Kopf said: “It’s a fact that AUA has an expiry date but we have not.”The businessman, who acquired an Embraer 170 jet from Finnish aviation company Finnair to operate between St. Gallen-Altenrhein Airport and VIA, said one ticket for the service costs 150 Euros, adding that the online sale has already started.Peoples Viennaline has 20 employees according to Kopf, who purchased half of the Peoplesairport St. Gallen-Altenrhein company in 2008 before recently taking it over in full.AUA is meanwhile considering taking legal action against the airport in eastern Styria if the Swiss chairmen refuse to make a U-turn over ending the cooperation. Referring to the treaty’s cancellation period, AUA has expressed the view that their contract partners will behave appropriately, adding its conviction that “Switzerland is a constitutional state.”Business newspapers have reported AUA’s decision to reduce its number of daily flights on the route from four to three last year tempted St. Gallen-Altenrhein Airport to end their partnership.AUA was taken over by Germany’s Lufthansa in September 2009 after having made dramatic losses for years. The Viennese airline’s attempts to restore its finances seem to bear fruit as the latest business figures show that it managed to significantly reduce its losses. AUA reported losses of almost 165 million Euros in the first three quarters of 2009 before announcing recently it suffered a loss of fewer than 45 million Euros in the same time span of 2010.AUA was founded in 1957. It is currently headed by Peter Malanik, Thierry Antinori and Andreas Bierwirth. The deal between Lufthansa and AUA tempted Niki Lauda to brand his firm FlyNiki as the “most Austrian airline” despite German company Air Berlin holding an interest in it.