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Lufthansa plans to strengthen partnerships with Indian airlines

New Delhi: With Jet Airways shutting down in April, the Lufthansa airline group is planning to "strengthen" its partnership with Indian airlines like Vistara and Air India in 2020, the top Indian official of the largest European carrier said.

Moreover, apart from launching a Munich-Bengaluru flight service in April, the airline does not plan to start any other flight service in 2020, George Ettiyil, Senior Director, South Asia, Lufthansa Group, said.

Currently, the Lufthansa airline group has an interline agreement with Vistara, which allows a passenger to check-in his luggage at the first airport itself for the whole journey consisting of flights of both airlines.

"With Vistara...we are strengthening our relationship in the weeks to come. Jet Airways was one of our partners here in India and with them having left the scene, we are looking for Indian airlines to partner up with," Ettiyil told PTI.

Asked if Lufthansa was planning to convert its interline agreement with Vistara to a codeshare agreement, he said, "We are trying to strengthen it. Let us see what the future holds in store. We have the desire to actually strengthen partnerships with other Indian airlines also. So, Vistara is an obvious choice."

The European carrier has a codeshare agreement with Air India, which allows one airline's passenger to book a ticket on the other airline, using the first one's ticketing system. The Indian government is planning to sell Air India to a private player by March next year.

For 2020, the Lufthansa group "will be trying to strengthen our Indian partnerships" so that Indian carriers "can bring passengers from second and third-tier cities to our four gateways", Ettiyil said.

Two brands of the group -- Lufthansa and Swiss -- operate flight services to India. Swiss has daily non-stop flights connecting Zurich to Delhi and Mumbai.

Lufthansa operates daily non-stop flights connecting Frankfurt to Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Chennai, as also daily non-stop flights connecting Munich to Delhi and Mumbai.

From April 1, 2020, Lufthansa will start a five-days-a-week flight service, connecting Munich and Bengaluru.

"We currently do not have any immediate plans to grow in terms of adding flight capacity," Ettiyil said.

"We have seen a continuous growth over the past four years of India's share on our aircraft. We are trying to grow by allowing more Indian-origin passengers on our aircraft. We have no other plans of any other further flights for 2020," he added.

Stating that the Bengaluru-Munich flight operations would be the airline's focus next year, Ettiyil said, "Promising cities are always on the radar. Hyderabad is always something that is there. But one has to always look at profitability." The Lufthansa group currently operates only wide-body aircraft for its long-haul operations between India and Europe.

However, till January, it had flight operations from Frankfurt to Pune using narrow-body planes.

"It was a wet-lease agreement with an operator known as PrivatAir. They unfortunately went bankrupt and we could not find an alternative," Ettiyil said.

A wet-lease agreement is a renting agreement, where one airline provides an aircraft, its crew, its maintenance crew etc. to another airline.

The Frankfurt-Pune flight operations were conducted by PrivatAir for Lufthansa for 10 years.

Asked if Lufthansa was planning to restart the Frankfurt-Pune flight operations, Ettiyil replied in the negative.

"We have tried for a year (to find an alternative). We have not been successful so far. We don't have that kind of an aircraft.... This aircraft (for the Frankfurt-Pune route) has to be a modified aircraft. It needs to have a bigger fuel tank, less cargo capacity...the economy class should be better than the domestic product," he said.

Ettiyil added that the modified plane also needed to have an European AOC (air operator's certificate), with safety standards that were regulated by the European Union (EU).

Therefore, due to these specific requirements, the airline was unable to restart the Pune operations as yet, he said, adding, "If we find an alternative to PrivatAir, we will definitely restart it." After PrivatAir went bankrupt in December last year, Lufthansa did conduct flight operations in the December-January period, using its own narrow-body A320 family aircraft, Ettiyil said, adding, "Passengers did not accept that."Ettiyil said the runway is a challenge at the Pune airport and if the Indian Air Force is able to expand it after buying an additional piece of land, any wide-body aircraft will be able to land there.

"Not just Lufthansa, but many airlines would be willing to operate to Pune then, if the air force allows," he added.

The Lufthansa group continues to sponsor the annual Startup Expo, which is organised in collaboration with TiE (The Indus Entrepreneurs) in Delhi.

Ettiyil said the group was open to establishing commercial partnerships with startups in future, if they were relevant to the airline ecosystem.

"Initially, it was pure sponsorship (of the Startup Expo). It was a marketing investment for us. But it grew. For example, Chaayos was a winner at one of our startup initiatives called 'Runway to Success'. Chaayos' masala tea is served on every Lufthansa flight that goes out of India," he said.

Asked if the group was contemplating similar commercial partnerships like the one with Chaayos, Ettiyil said, "Startups that go into travel and mobility, we will definitely have a look at them. We will see if there is anything we can do together."

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