Bierwirth to depart, papers claim

Andreas Bierwirth is about to leave the executive board of Austrian Airlines (AUA), according to reports.

Several Austrian business dailies report today (Fri) that the businessman’s contract will not be extended. The supervisory board of Lufthansa – which rescued AUA from ruin in 2009 – is understood to debate the details of Bierwirth’s departure in a meeting next week. AUA has not commented on the claims.

Newspapers report about serious rifts between Bierwirth and AUA co-chief Peter Malanik. Lufthansa bosses are reportedly dissatisfied with Bierwirth’s achievements since the German and his Austrian board member colleague failed to drag AUA back in the black in the past years. Malanik is not expected to leave the struggling carrier. Bierwirth and Malanik were joined in the executive board by former Star Alliance CEO Jaan Albrecht.

Lufthansa set Albrecht a tough deadline to turn AUA – which suffered a loss of 65 million Euros in 2011 – into a profitable business. The former pilot was asked to achieve profits by the end of this year. Lufthansa managers remained tight-lipped about the possible consequences if he failed but are expected to dramatically reduce AUA chiefs’ responsibilities. The Viennese airline – which currently focuses on medium-haul flights and long-distance connections – could be turned into a regional carrier operating only in Central Europe.

AUA bosses are currently holding talks with works council chiefs and unionists about salary cut of 20 to 25 per cent for pilots and cabin crew. They were given two more weeks for results. AUA managers are also checking the chances for a reduction of charges for operating at Vienna International Airport (VIA or VIE).

Flughafen Wien (FW), the company which manages the aerodrome, is ready to debate the matter. Higher hurdles are ahead for AUA elsewhere as the Austrian government coalition of Social Democrats (SPÖ) and People’s Party (ÖVP) rejected appeals for additional subsidies.

VIA is Austria’s most important airport with more than 21 million passengers. Around 80 airlines are operating at VIA but more than one in two flights are AUA services. The second-busiest airport of Austria is Salzburg Airport W. A. Mozart (SZG). It counted 1.6 million passengers in 2010.

DO&CO, which cooperates with AUA concerning its culinary onboard offers, agreed with the airline about changing existing contracts. The accord means that AUA will pay less than initially arranged for the Viennese company’s catering services. At the same time, AUA and DO&CO agreed on extending their partnership.

DO&CO is one of Austria’s leading event catering companies and among the world’s busiest airline caterers. The company headed by Attila Dogudan also cooperates with FlyNiki, one of AUA’s biggest competitors. FlyNiki was founded by ex-Lauda Air boss Niki Lauda in 2003. The airline kicked off a partnership with Air Berlin, Germany’s strongest low-cost carrier, one year later.