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'Lufthansa to increase frequencies'

July 09, 2007 11:08 IST
Werner Heesen, director (South Asia), Lufthansa, has been in India since 12 years. From eight flights a week in 1985, Lufthansa, under Heesen's leadership, has grown manifold and now operates 47 flights a week. Heesen, 59, talked to Business Standard at the Lufthansa Aviation Centre in Frankfurt.


How important is the Indian market for you?

India is a strategic market for Lufthansa. Though the country represents less than 0.1 per cent of the world's air traffic, India holds huge prospects along with China. We have been here since 47 years and we understand the market better than others. Of course, there is the absence of new bilaterals for further expansion, but we are keen on the bilateral talks, which are expected by this year-end.

How fast is the Indian government reacting to the requirements of foreign airlines?

The airline market in India is developing fast. Everything is happening here at one-go after 2000. Unlike the European Union, which took a lot of time to reach the consolidation phase after regulation in the seventies, deregulation in the eighties and alliances in the nineties. New airlines have entered the scene and consolidation has taken place. The growth is amazing. Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel has changed the Indian aviation scene dramatically. But you must understand that Patel does not have a magic wand. Infrastructure constraints in Indian airports are a reality and will take time to change.

What are your plans for India and what is the status of bilateral talks?

Lufthansa's route planning follows the traffic streams from or to India, which will connect Europe and North America. Lufthansa wants to increase its frequencies and operate in new destinations in India. The civil aviation ministry will give us a date for fresh bilateral talks this month (July).

We have already submitted our requests to the German government. The trade between India and Germany is doubling. Therefore, we expect that more rights will be issued to fly from more Indian destinations. At present, we are planning to enhance the current stations. We were the only airline to double the capacity from 2003, offering seamless connections to the US and the European destinations.

are the other investment plans for Lufthansa in India?

Lufthansa Technik, the aircraft maintenance division of the airline, has set up a joint venture with the GMR group to build an aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaulĀ  facility in Hyderabad.

There is a subsidiary company, One Stop Airline MRO, in Delhi to handle client airlines. LSG Sky Chef, the catering arm of Lufthansa, is already present in Bangalore and Hyderabad. We are planning to expand Sky Chef, the modalities of which are currently being worked out. We also have an IT arm - Lufthansa System.

What are the special offerings for Indian passengers?

Over 60 per cent of our passengers are Indians. Therefore, we are providing special features for Indian travellers. We have Indian flight attendants on all Indian routes. There is an Indian welcome at Frankfurt in Hindi and Tamil. Our inflight service is designed to suit Indians. The meals are designed by renowned chef Hemant Oberoi and an Indian chef is stationed at international destinations to look after the preferences of Indian passengers. We are also providing local newspapers, entertainment programmes on the flights operating to and from India.

Indian carriers are looking at Europe for a hub and are also looking at leveraging the domestic leg to fill international flights. Do you feel the heat?

Competition is always welcome. In fact, competition was always there from Indian and other foreign carriers. The hub concept of Indian carriers is okay. But mind you, the total fleet of Lufthansa (around 430) is equal to the total number of aircraft owned by Indian carriers.

Therefore, creating a hub and offering the best network would be a tough task for Indian airlines. The domestic network can be gained through alliances with Indian carriers. Already, we are cooperating with Air-India and we understand it is planning to join a leading alliance.

Leading international budget carriers are planning to fly to India. Do you see a price war or a shrinking market share?

There are no low-cost terminals in India unlike the Western countries. So one will have to wait. The market share will shrink when new operators enter the scene. We are also looking at secondary cities.
P R Sanjai in Mumbai