Future of Germanwings brand called into question

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Lufthansa will decide by spring 2013 how to restructure its intra-European network and merge its in-house narrowbody operations with low-cost subsidiary Germanwings.

One of the possible models being discussed is the abandonment of the Germanwings brand, a Lufthansa spokesman tells Flightglobal, though he stresses that no decision has yet been made.

Carsten Spohr, chief executive of Lufthansa's passenger airline arm, said in an open letter to employees in April that the carrier's "direct services" division - which covers continental flights outside the main hubs Frankfurt and Munich - will be combined with Germanwings to "finally cap the losses being made in decentralised traffic".

As a first step, the low-cost carrier is taking over all Lufthansa flights at its base in Cologne/Bonn as well as Stuttgart and Hannover, while the parent airline will maintain its presence in the secondary "focus cities" Dusseldorf and Hamburg. It is not clear, however, if the Germanwings brand will be preserved in future, the spokesman says.

In Berlin, Lufthansa has been planning to pursue a new model with locally-based Airbus A320 aircraft and crews, including temporary workers as flight attendants.

The plan to transfer short-haul operations to Germanwings whilst keeping the parent's brand would follow similar moves by Lufthansa subsidiary Austrian Airlines. It also mirrors Iberia's establishment of low-cost subsidiary Iberia Express for European flights.

Austrian is moving all mainline operations to its regional division, Tyrolean Airways, in an effort to cut labour costs for flight and cabin crew. The move is due to be completed by next month, but for customers there will be no visible change. The flights will still be conducted under the Austrian name with the respectively branded, existing fleet.

The Lufthansa spokesman says that it is not clear whether a comparable move would be the best solution for Lufthansa and Germanwings.

As part of Lufthansa's restructuring and cost-cutting in the early 1990s, the airline introduced a separate division for domestic flights called Lufthansa Express. A number of Boeing 737, Airbus A300-600 and A310 aircraft carried the name in an adapted livery before the brand disappeared a few years later.