Passenger decline brings AUA down to earth

Austrian Airlines (AUA) had its wings clipped in the first three months of this year.The airline announced yesterday (Mon) that it served 2.1 million passengers between January and March, down by one per cent compared to the first quarter of 2010. AUA added that it had 797,500 customers in March, around 2.4 per cent fewer than in the same month of 2010.AUA’s overall load factor dropped by 4.2 per cent to 68.6 per cent in the first three months of this year.The airline cited the earthquake and the nuclear disaster in Japan and the unrest in North Africa as main reasons for the decline in passenger figures and ticket sales.Lufthansa – which acquired a majority stake in AUA in 2009 – managed to increase its passenger numbers. The German firm had 22.1 million customers in the first three months of this year, up by 6.9 per cent to the same period of 2010. Lufthansa explained that this figure also considered its subsidiary companies Swiss, British Midland Airways (bmi), Germanwings and AUA.AUA was established in 1957. The Star Alliance member has 6,000 employees, down by more than 2,000 compared to 2009. More than half of all departing and landing flights at Vienna International Airport (VIA or VIE) are operated by AUA and its affiliates Lauda Air and Tyrolean Airways, also known as Austrian Arrows.Tyrolean Airways pilots held a works assembly this morning to show their opposition to contract agreements with AUA. Current regulations mean that Tyrolean Airways pilots must come up for all expenses of their training while their AUA counterparts only have to pay a certain part of the overall costs. Tyrolean Airways staff representatives are also angered about AUA’s expansion plans. The parent company said recently it wanted to hire additional pilots – while most Tyrolean Airways co-pilots are forced to work part-time.The Lufthansa Group was dealt a withering blow when Thierry Antinori announced he decided not to take over as new AUA chairman. The experienced aviation industry businessman was set to start on 1 April. The Frenchman informed Lufthansa board colleagues only three days ahead of that day. Antinori did not give any reason, while newspapers speculate he may join a rival like Air Berlin or Emirates.