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Air Berlin break-up poses challenge to Lufthansa

Brigitte Scholtes
August 18, 2017

This weekend, the fate of the German airline will be sealed. As stakeholders push for a quick resolution and division of the carrier's valuable parts, they also face special responsibilities, says Brigitte Scholtes.

An Air Berlin Flight attendant in front of company logo
Image: imago/Gerhard Leber

One reason for haste is that German government's bridge loan, meant to keep the company operational during the wrap-up phase, will melt away very quickly. So the cake is to be apportioned and the slices served up without delay.

Various airlines, led by Lufthansa, are competing for the most lucrative fragments. Lufthansa had already taken over 30 aircraft from Air Berlin at the end of 2016, and this apparently encompassed taking over their 'slots' as well, i.e. starting and landing rights at desirable airports.

Evidence of this can be seen at Düsseldorf airport, where certain Lufthansa flight connections have been seen to start with flight numbers previously owned by Air Berlin.

This suggests that Lufthansa will be the main beneficiary of Air Berlin's collapse. If that's the case, then Lufthansa also has a special responsibility to former employees of the defunct carrier. Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr has acknowledged as much, and one hopes he will translate fine words into corresponding actions. After all, the airline's rank-and-file employees didn't cause the company's insolvency; the responsibility for that lies with senior management, and also with Air Berlin's main shareholder, Etihad.  

That's why Air Berlin employees deserve to be treated fairly, even if they will presumably have to absorb some losses in pay or conditions of employment.

Moreover, Lufthansa has an interest in healthy competition, because competition keeps an airline from getting fat and lazy, and hence potential prey for upstarts waging price wars. 

Hopefully, Lufthansa will resist the temptation to expand its discount-airline subsidiary, Eurowings, too quickly, now that its competitor Air Berlin is no longer in business. One lesson from Air Berlin's collapse is that excessively fast growth is hard to manage successfully.