German Star Alliance carrier Lufthansa expects to secure an Italian air operator's certificate (AOC) for its new Milan Malpensa-based airline, Lufthansa Italia, by around September-October.
Lufthansa Italia begins flights out of Malpensa on 2 February using the first two of six Airbus A319s initially being deployed by the Italian airline. It will start with flights to Barcelona and Paris, adding services to Brussels, Budapest, Bucharest, London Heathrow, Lisbon and Madrid over the coming months.
"We will start with a comparatively small fleet of six aircraft," explained Lufthansa executive vice-president for services and human resources Karl Ulrich Garnadt during a ceremony in Milan to name the carrier's first two A319s.
Four more will follow by the end of March. Five of Lufthansa Italia's A319s are ex-Germanwings and another is from Lufthansa's mainline fleet.
"We are evaluating further options for further network expansions. We do not exclude further services at a later stage, but we will most probably go through the summer with six aircraft and then evaluate," says Garnadt.
Securing an Italian AOC would enable the airline to operate on routes not covered by EU 'open skies' agreements, but Garnadt says the carrier's initial focus is on Europe.
"I do not see the urgency," he states. "We want to take the first steps. We expect the Italian AOC will probably be there in September-October."
Lufthansa first planned to expand at Malpensa - in light of Alitalia cutbacks at Milan - using six Embraer 195s operated by its Italian partner Air Dolomiti. This plan later changed, initially so that Air Dolomiti would operate A319s, but Lufthansa then opted instead to create a new carrier.
"We looked into [the Air Dolomiti] option," says Garnadt. "It is a regional carrier with a clear mission, to feed traffic primarily into Munich. It has expertise in the regional market. We want it to maintain its focus on its core business.
"This is the first time we have taken the step of starting a new airline from scratch in a foreign market. It is a clear sign of our commitment to the region."
Garnadt would not be drawn on targets, but says the carrier is "not expecting miracles" given the tough market conditions. However, he adds: "We have had a very encouraging response for the Malpensa operation in terms of bookings. We are convinced northern Italy, Milan and Malpensa is the right pace to start this enterprise."