September 21, 2017 / 7:03 AM / a year ago

Lufthansa CEO puts focus on 38 wet lease planes in Air Berlin battle

FRANKFURT, Sept 21 (Reuters) - Lufthansa’s bid for Air Berlin assets is focused on securing the 38 crewed planes it currently leases from the insolvent carrier and it is interested in a further 20 to 40 planes, Lufthansa’s chief executive said.

Those 38 planes currently carry about 1,000 passengers a day, mainly for the group’s budget unit Eurowings, and Lufthansa’s priority is on keeping that operation stable, Carsten Spohr said at a media event late on Wednesday.

Eurowings was hit last week, when Air Berlin pilots called in sick in unusually high numbers, forcing the cancellation of flights.

Spohr said Lufthansa also expected it could grow its short-haul operations by another 20 to 40 planes without falling foul of anti-trust concerns due to the expected exit of Air Berlin from the market.

“The next few days will show whether that growth comes organically via Eurowings or through an Air Berlin transaction,” he said, adding that Lufthansa would need around 3,000 new employees as it seeks to build on its market share following the exit of Air Berlin.

Lufthansa is however not interested in Air Berlin’s long-haul routes however, with Spohr saying the flagship carrier could grow in that area on its own.

After announcing plans to start Eurowings long-haul routes from Duesseldorf this winter, following Air Berlin’s retreat there, the budget unit also intends to offer long-haul flights from Berlin Tegel airport next year, albeit starting with just one route.

Spohr also said business so far in 2017 was proving significantly better than the last two years, both of which were record years in terms of financial results.

He added that Lufthansa was sticking with a goal of reducing its unit costs this year and said it hoped to sign a wide-ranging deal on pay and conditions with its pilots this month. (Reporting by Victoria Bryan; Editing by Maria Sheahan)

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