New AUA boss warns rivals

The new Austrian Airlines (AUA) board chief has revealed plans to “create new alliances”.

Jan Albrecht – who was elected by the supervisory board of AUA and its parent firm, Germany’s Lufthansa, yesterday (Thurs) – said he saw “a good opportunity” to approach the new heads of Flughafen Wien AG (FW) about how to cooperate better and more intensely. Julian Jäger and Günther Ofner took over at the firm which manages Vienna International Airport (VIA or VIE) on 1 September.

Albrecht previously headed Star Alliance, the world’s largest association of airlines. He explained yesterday the plan was to join forces with the other 12 Star Alliance members which operate at VIA. “I cannot imagine Vienna (VIA) without AUA. We will defend the location and expand it together. Our competitors should know that,” he stressed.

Albrecht will officially join AUA on 1 November. His contract runs until 2015. Albrecht is pressed to present a concept how to restore AUA’s finances shortly. The company suffered a loss of 63 million Euros in the first six months of the current year. Lufthansa supervisory board boss Stefan Lauer recently made clear the airline was not expected to get back in the black this year. Newspaper Die Presse reports today chances of AUA to achieve this goal this year were “fairly low”.

“We will check every corner and identify every spot where improvements are needed,” Albrecht said about his task to reduce AUA’s losses. He added: “I would not be here today were I not convinced of our chances for success.”

The German-Mexican aviation industry expert announced: “AUA is and remains a quality airline Austrians can be proud of.”

AUA was taken over by Lufthansa two years ago. The Viennese carrier, which was founded in 1957, was headed by Vagn Sörensen between 2001 and 2006 before Alfred Ötsch took over. Its executive board is formed by Peter Malanik and Andreas Bierwirth since Lufthansa grabbed a majority interest in September 2009. Malanik’s contract expires next year while Bierwirth is set to stay a member of the board until 2013. It is unclear whether Lufthansa chiefs have intentions to extend their contracts. The assignment of Albrecht was necessary after ex-Lufthansa manager Thierry Antinori pulled out from taking over only days before he was due to do so. Antinori initially agreed to join the AUA board as of 1 April.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) recently drew a bleak outlook for the world’s airlines. The organisation warned that carriers would rake in less than initially expected next year due to soaring kerosene prices and higher taxes.

Hartmut Mehdorn, who recently took over at struggling German airline Air Berlin, claimed a few days ago many travellers may abstain from booking their next holiday flights due to the economic turmoil Europe was currently in. Air Berlin, one of AUA’s biggest rivals, plans to reduce its 170-aircraft fleet to 152 until next summer. It will also operate less often on several routes while some links will be axed completely. Lufthansa and AUA are understood to have similar plans. The Kurier newspaper reports today AUA will use smaller planes on some routes.

AUA served 1.146 million passengers last month. The Lufthansa Group counted 9.9 million customers overall in this period. Swiss, British Midlands (bmi) and other airlines are part of the enterprise. Austrian businessman Wolfgang Mayrhuber was Lufthansa’s CEO for seven years. German Christoph Franz succeeded him in January 2011.

In related news, FW announced it would stop hiring staff. The firm currently has around 4,200 employees. Jäger and Ofner said layoffs were the “last resort”, explaining that retiring workers will not be replaced in the next few years. FW had earnings before interest and taxes (Ebit) of 66 million Euros in the first six months of 2011, up by 25.5 per cent compared to the first half of last year.

Around 80 airlines operate at VIA. The aerodrome easily outdoes Salzburg Airport W. A. Mozart (SZG) over being Austria’s busiest airport. Nearly 19.7 million passengers used VIA in 2010. SZG had 1.6 million customers in the same period.