German carrier starts negotiations with Airbus and Boeing about expansion ambitions

Air Berlin is holding initial discussions to double its fleet over the next five years as it aims to maintain its position as one of Germany's largest low-fare carriers. The German charter airline has added 15 aircraft since the launch of its City Shuttle services last October and says it wants to add a further 50 narrowbodies by 2007.

Carsten Kröger, Air Berlin's sales director, says the growth potential of City Shuttle, which carried 800,000 passengers in its first six months, has led to the airline assessing its future requirements. The carrier is taking delivery of the final two Boeing 737-800s it has on order this month, increasing its -800 fleet to 31 aircraft. It also operates five 737-400s and two 737-700s.

Despite its all-Boeing fleet, Air Berlin is not tied to the US manufacturer, says Kröger. "We have started talks with both Airbus and Boeing concerning an order for around 50 aircraft," he says. Economic woes in Germany are making banks nervous of aircraft acquisition loans, so "either manufacturer could win if it comes up with good financing", he adds.

Air Berlin City Shuttle is now locked into a race for market share in Germany, which has seen the launch of several new low-fare airlines, including Germania, German-wings and Hapag-Lloyd Express, while Ryanair is also establishing itself in the market. Air Berlin plans to counter the single-hub operations of its competitors by offering limited destinations from as many regional airports as possible.

Air Berlin will need to secure extra aircraft with early delivery slots if growth continues at its initial pace, says Kröger, and it signed wet-lease deals last month with two charter operators to supplement its fleet with a further two 737-700s, as well as three BAe 146-200s for operations at Mönchengladbach, near Düsseldorf.

Source: Flight International