Gulf carriers could face restrictions into Germany, says Lufthansa chief

Carsten Spohr, Lufthansa’s chief executive, spoke out at the Iata meeting in Miami where he said destinations and frequencies into Germany may be limited.

Lufthansa’s chief executive Carsten Spohr. Carmen Jaspersen / AFP
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MIAMI // Arabian Gulf carriers could face limitations on destinations and frequencies into Germany when the bilateral air agreement between the Gulf states and the European Union is addressed this year, the chief executive of Lufthansa said on Sunday.

In March, the transport ministers from Germany and France asked the European Commission to address alleged government subsidies to Gulf airlines, as Lufthansa and Air France-KLM claimed that Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar airways received government support that disrupted “fair competition”.

“There are various ways to achieve the openness and balance when it is not fully fair,” said Carsten Spohr, Lufthansa’s chief executive, at the International Air Travel Association annual general meeting in Miami.

“It could be limitation of destinations to Germany. It could be limitation of frequencies … I will leave this to the government to evaluate how many restrictions need to be put in place to create this balance between openness and fairness. Our position on this has not changed.”

Lufthansa’s call was echoed by America’s big three airlines – Delta, United and American Airlines – which also claim that Gulf carriers receive state subsides. They too have asked the US government to look into the matter.

But not all European airlines agree with Lufthansa. International Airlines Group (IAG) – the mother company of British Airways and Spain’s Iberia – has refused to join the subsidy debate. IAG also augmented its ties with Qatar Airways when it this year sold a near 10 per cent stake in itself to the Doha-based airline.

Mr Spohr said six hubs and their airlines in Europe are mostly influenced by the rising influence of Gulf airlines.

“In Europe, I would say there are five or six hubs that are affected because they are depending on the transfer traffic to Asia,” he said.

“Amsterdam, Paris, Munich, Frankfurt, Zurich, and Vienna. The airlines of those hubs are the ones that are taking position [against Gulf carriers].”

He added that for Lufthansa the number and amount of flights between Europe and South East Asia has been reduced “dramatically” because of Gulf airlines.

“Lufthansa is now down to three destinations in South East Asia,” he said.

Mr Spohr added that the aviation industry should emulate lessons of “openness and fairness” from the World Trade Organisation and implement it.

“Let’s look at the WTO to see what we can learn from there. This discussion I want to start, from the industry to the public,” he said.

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