A new battle looms over Berlin

BERLIN (eTN) - Berlin is on the verge of becoming the most promising air transport market in Europe.

A new battle looms over Berlin

BERLIN (eTN) – Berlin is on the verge of becoming the most promising air transport market in Europe. The German capital is accumulating, year after year, new records in both tourism and air transport. In 2010, Berlin recorded a historical record with almost 9.1 million travelers (up by 9.5%) and 20.8 million overnights (up by 10.2%). Growth was particularly strong for international markets with arrivals up by 13.7% to 3.3 million travelers.

An increasing number of tourists are reaching the German capital by plane. Last year, Berlin received 22.3 million, a number up by 6.4%. Berlin consolidated its position as Germany’s third largest gateway behind Frankfurt and Munich and ahead of Düsseldorf. Despite the new German airport tax, which is likely to dampen the demand, especially for low-cost carriers, Berlin airports still expect further growth in 2011 due to the arrival of new airlines. Passenger traffic at both Tegel and Schönefeld airports is then expected to reach 24 million by this year. The new German tax could then see a reduction of half a million passengers at Schönefeld airport, however, compensated by the growth of scheduled flights from Tegel airport.

Berlin’s potential as an air transport market is turning into a new battle between Lufthansa and Germany’s second largest company, airberlin. The planned opening of Berlin’s new airport, BBI (Berlin Brandenburg International), on June 4, 2012 is heating competition between both carriers to increase their market share. Talking at ITB, Joachim Hunold, airberlin CEO, indicated that its airline is already Berlin’s largest carrier with some 40% of all capacities.

Airberlin is due to join Oneworld by 2012 and started to build up its frequencies and rearrange flight frequencies to turn Berlin into a proper hub for Oneworld. The carrier currently flies to over 55 destinations from Berlin, many of them being, however, typical leisure destinations around the Mediterranean Sea or in the Caribbean. But airberlin has also started developing its intercontinental network, a first step on its way to integrate Oneworld alliance. After Bangkok, Dubai, and Miami, airberlin will open a daily frequency to New York JFK next May, boosting connections with its codeshare partner, American Airlines.

“We built up our codeshare agreement with Oneworld partners such as American Airlines, Finnair, and Russian S7. We should soon also have a similar partnership with British Airways and Iberia. We [are] also consider[ing] many options to boost our network, but I cannot reveal anything for the time due to competition!” explained Mr. Hunold. Building up its network for this summer include airberlin opening new flights to Basle, Linz, New York JFK, and Verona, while building up frequencies to Rome and Saint Petersburg. At the new airport, airberlin will be located at Pier North at the future Berlin Brandenburg International, which has been designed to exactly fit the airline’s needs. Airberlin dedicated area will integrate a huge business class lounge but also simplified boarding areas for short-haul European flights.

Lufthansa could not sit idle looking at Oneworld stepping up its presence on the Berlin market. Germany’s national carrier has for long showed a mediocre interest to build up its position in Berlin. In its current timetable, Lufthansa group (including Swiss, Brussels Airlines, Austrian Airlines, and Bmi) serves 13 destinations out of Berlin.

In the past, when asked about Lufthansa’s position in Berlin, Thierry Antinori, outgoing Vice President of Marketing at Lufthansa Board of Directors, always stressed that Lufthansa was keen to build up its presence in the German capital, especially with the development of its low-cost affiliate Germanwings. The budget carrier currently offers a network of 10 cities, including many in Central and Eastern Europe, such as Moscow or Zagreb. Lufthansa instead mostly developed frequencies to its two main hubs in Frankfurt and Munich, as well as to other large German cities such as Cologne, Düsseldorf, and Stuttgart. Lufthansa’s timid position in Berlin was mostly justified by Berlin’s lack of business travel traffic.

Lufthansa now realizes that this strategy will be hard to justify in such a symbolically important market. Mr. Antinori indicated at ITB recently that Lufthansa appointed Josef Bogdanski as Manager of the project, “Zukunft Berlin” (Future Berlin). “We are looking at new ways to build up our strategy for the Lufthansa Group,” Thierry Antinori declared in Berlin, a move that airport authorities have commented on with a hint of sarcasm, stating, “Lufthansa implicitly recognized that it did not have a strategy for Berlin until now.” Berlin would then turn into one of the few cities in Europe to serve as a hub for two competing alliances. The airline battle of Berlin is open.

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