Lufthansa Airlines operates more flights to India than to China

Lufthansa’s agreement with Etihad thas not changed the German airline’s position on subsidies to Gulf carriers, says Carsten Spohr, Chairman of the executive Board and CEO of Lufthansa Group . In an interview with ET’s Mihir Mishra, Spohr says that India is a more important market than China for Lufthansa, which has introduced its first Airbus 350 flight on the India route.

Recently, you announced a partnership with a Middle Eastern carrier (Etihad). Does it mean that you have shed your opposition on subsidies to Gulf carriers?

First of all, our position towards Gulf carriers has not changed when it comes to subsidies. Lufthansa not only opposes subsidies but also believes that any kind of trade, including aviation, can only be as open as it is fair. The World Trade Organisation (WTO), which puts openness and fairness into relation for other industries, should also be the instrument in measuring how fair and open aviation be. As a matter of fact, that position has not changed.

We found a win-win situation with Etihad, considering the whole group of Lufthansa. The group got contracts for catering and Maintenance Repair and Overhaul (MRO), and there is a very important package for Eurowings through the Air Berlin wet lease agreement. Then there is also the element of four codeshares.

How does this pact change things for the India business of Lufthansa, which competes with the Middle Eastern carrier on flights in and out of India?

It does not change anything for the Indian subsidiary. I still complain about unfair trade and subsidies and all of us do, and will continue to do that. I would like to add here that I am really glad that the Indian government has realised that this is unfair and limited the bilateral entitlements to carriers within a certain radius of India (Civil aviation policy allowed open skies for countries beyond 5,000 km from India, excluding Middle Eastern countries). We have been discussing this with the Indian government for decades now.

How does the deal benefit an Indian traveller?

Jet Airways is part of the Etihad Group and has been a partner of Lufthansa. We are looking into more flights with Jet Airways in the framework of Lufthansa and the Etihad Group working with each other, but not in the near future.

Our focus, as of now, is on our own operations. We operate 10 flights a day, which is more than we operate to China — people sometime forget this. We have 3,000 passengers a day to and from India, which is an important market for us. Once again, we have introduced our newest aircraft (Airbus 350) to this market — making it the first country in the world to receive our Airbus 350 flight. Whenever we have a new aircraft, we bring it into India, which shows the importance this market holds for us. We will soon introduce Airbus 350 operations on the Mumbai route too. Plus, Brussels Air will also operate to India by March-end with five flights on the Mumbai-Brussels route

The Indian market has also registered highest passenger growth in the world for over a year now. Would you be looking at entering the Indian market by buying stake in an Indian carrier?

No, The investments by Lufthansa Group into airlines are focused on the European market, as of now. But our Star Alliance partner Singapore Airlines, along with the Tata Group, has invested in an airline in the country. If a win-win situation arises, we would be looking at a partnership with them (Vistara). This part of the world is not Lufthansa investments.

Are partnerships or joint ventures future for the aviation industry?

Lufthansa earlier acquired Swiss and Austrian, and recently bought Belgium-based Brussels Airlines, which will also start operations to India. So, Lufthansa is playing its role in Europe and I would wait for my friends in other parts of the world to play their role in consolidation to make us an even healthier industry.