Privatise Air India: Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr

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San Francisco: A top global airline official has suggested privatisation of Air India saying government involvement in running airline business does not help.

Maintaining that "a lot of time" has already been lost, Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr said there was a lot of government involvement in India which "does not always help" as airline business needs quick decisions.

Referring to the privatisation experience of the premier German carrier, he said Lufthansa was partly privatised in 1992 and fully five years later.

"Our stocks were put on the market through public stock exchange and we don`t have a single shareholding. The employees` unions are also our shareholders", Spohr told a team of visiting Indian journalists here.

"Coming from German history of government involvement in Lufthansa a few decades ago, we know it doesn`t always help to make an airline more flexible and cash rich", he said.

Maintaining that Air India should remain a national carrier but not owned by the government, he said, "it does help to have a national attribute to the carrier. We call ourselves Lufthansa German Airlines but we are fully privatised. We can change our name tomorrow. But we don`t do it. Because we believe that `German` is something which helps Lufthansa.

"So is it the strength of an airline to be Indian? Yes. But should it be owned necessarily by government? I think the example has been proved round the world, probably its more of an advantage to have that beneficiary not to be owned by the government. But it`s a question every government and every airline has to answer. In Germany, we have found an answer".

Lufthansa has been Air India`s mentor, helping and guiding it complete all formalities for joining the Star Alliance, which has given July 31 as the deadline for the Indian carrier to join the global airline grouping.

About its India plans, Spohr said Lufthansa was pushing hard to launch its superjumbo A-380 flights soon from Delhi where it wants develop a hub in cooperation with Indian carriers. The German carrier has already applied to the Indian government for allowing it to operate the superjumbo.

Lufthansa is also mulling a new connection from Delhi to Dusseldorf in Germany, but details are yet to be finalised.

Spohr said "we would have put Delhi as one of the destinations when we received our seventh A-380, but could not do so. With the eighth aircraft being delivered later this year, we hope to fly it to Delhi where the new Terminal-3 is waiting to receive the superjumbo".

As soon as India gives it permission, Lufthansa could pull out one of the A-380s from the existing sectors and start operations to Delhi, the CEO said, adding that Air India "will have access to this aircraft as we have a codeshare agreement".

The 526-seater A-380 (eight first, 98 business and 420 economy seats) could replace the 352-seater Boeing 747 that`s currently deployed on Lufthansa`s Delhi-Frankfurt route.

The German carrier would fly the A-380 to Singapore this October and soon to Miami. The huge aircraft already operates to Frankfurt, Tokyo, Beijing, Johannesburg, New York and San Francisco.

The major European carrier applied for Indian government`s nod to fly the superjumbo on a daily basis between Delhi and Frankfurt last year.

The permission is yet to be granted as the government feels that infrastructure at Delhi airport needs to be further developed to accommodate over 500 passengers it will bring in.

However, industry sources said that A-380 operations were not being permitted as it would take away passengers from the Indian carriers with travellers being lured by the new aircraft and the attractive fares that could be possible with the larger and more economical plane.

The top Lufthansa official said his airline had an ambitious plan to develop Delhi`s Terminal-3 as an operational hub in cooperation with Indian carriers.

"It has always been an idea of establishing Delhi as a hub for Star Alliance. Additional opportunities will come up.

India is already a huge market and we can route traffic to Southeast Asia, Maldives, Mauritius and Sri Lanka through this hub", Spohr said.

Since the middle of 2010, all airlines, including Lufthansa, have seen a massive growth in traffic in and out of India which has now touched the unprecedented high of 2007-08.

So, the foreign airlines are now replacing smaller planes with bigger ones on India routes and the A-380 would be the biggest plane replacing the old jumbo, Boeing-747.

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