Benz tipped for AUA top job

Karsten Benz may become new boss of Austrian Airlines (AUA).

Business newspapers claim today (Tues) that the Lufthansa manager could join the carrier’s two-member executive board. Peter Malanik and Andreas Bierwirth have managed AUA since Lufthansa acquired a majority share two years ago. The German company plans to assign an aviation industry manager to head the board. Malanik and Bierwirth are expected to stay members of the panel.

Lufthansa said last December Thierry Antinori would take over at the AUA board. The Frenchman sent shockwaves through the European aviation industry by eventually announcing he had decided not to accept the offer – only a few days before he was due to start work in Vienna on 1 April.

Daily papers claim today that Ralf Teckentrup was another candidate to head AUA. Teckentrup applied for the position in 2006 when Alfred Ötsch took over from Vagn Sörensen who became CEO of the carrier in 2001.

Lufthansa reportedly wants to install a new AUA board boss to accelerate the struggling carrier’s reconstruction process. The Vienna-based airline suffered a loss of 63 million Euros between January and June 2011. Lufthansa officials said last year it wanted AUA to be back in the black by the end of the current year. Stefan Lauer, who heads the supervisory board of the German aviation giant, declared last week AUA was unlikely to achieve this target.

AUA has suffered under increased competition by budget carriers such as Ryanair, Air Berlin and FlyNiki. Most low-cost carriers fared significantly better than AUA as far as their passenger numbers were concerned in the first half of 2011 when AUA counted 5.1 million customers, only 1.9 per cent more than in between January and June 2010.

Developments at AUA are closely observed by Flughafen Wien AG (FW). The company, which is listed on the Vienna Stock Exchange (WBAG), manages Vienna International Airport (VIA or VIE). AUA and its affiliates are in charge of around one in two takeoffs and landings at Austria’s busiest aerodrome. FW wants to create a third landing strip in the foreseeable future – an endeavour hundreds of local residents have spoken out against. The opponents of the project fear more flight movements will lead to higher noise pollution in Schwechat and other towns and cities.

AUA angered passengers by introducing a surcharge for bookings carried out with credit cards earlier this month. A spokesman defended the decision by pointing out that the company “must think commercially.” Many rivals of AUA have asked customers to pay more if they book and pay with their credit cards for years. Booking flights of some low-cost carriers includes a string of other extra charges.

The new AUA credit card bookings surcharge will not affect clients taking off at VIA, the firm explained. AUA made aware it had to fork out higher and higher sums on kerosene and taxes in recent years.

Meanwhile, a Graz-based airline has declared bankruptcy for a second time within less than one and a half years. The Creditors’ Protection Association of 1870 (KSV) said last week Robin Hood Aviation GmbH (Robin Hood) asked a court in Graz to start insolvency procedures. The struggling firm continued operating after controlled insolvency procedures in May 2010. Robin Hood – which currently offers no connections – used two planes to fly from Graz Airport (GRZ) to Linz Airport (LNZ) in Upper Austria and Zurich Airport (ZRH) in Switzerland.