Few airline markets have shown as much movement as Germany over the past year, amid the jockeying for position that accompanied first the attempts to save Air Berlin and subsequently the backfilling of capacity the Oneworld carrier vacated.
The fragmented nature of Air Berlin's model, established through a series of acquisitions, means its fall has rippled across various market segments – and beyond Germany. Notably, the fate of Austrian unit Niki has had its twists and turns: in the latest, Ryanair acquired a stake in successor operation Laudamotion, which has just begun flights.
Lufthansa had already begun working with Air Berlin via a major wet-lease arrangement as the latter sought to offload short-haul capacity, while a mooted consolidation in the leisure sector involving Etihad, Niki and TUIfly failed to materialise.
After Abu Dhabi's Etihad pulled the plug on further investment in Air Berlin, the German carrier initiated insolvency proceedings last summer, sparking the break-up of the group. That has led Lufthansa to further expand its Eurowings offering, while EasyJet began Berlin Tegel flights and Niki Lauda made a return to aviation.
Overall short-haul capacity in Germany – defined as flights within the European Economic Area and Switzerland – is set to climb slightly over the summer. FlightGlobal schedules data for April-September shows seat capacity rising by around 2%. That is lower than the 4% growth last summer, though, and the more than 7% increase in the summer of 2016 – a year in which Ryanair expanded rapidly in the German market.
Air Berlin, together with Niki, had its largest presence at Tegel and Dusseldorf airport, accounting for more than half of its short-haul capacity last summer.
The largest chunk of that capacity has been taken up by EasyJet. The UK budget carrier began operations at Tegel in January after completing a deal to acquire assets including aircraft and airport slots from Air Berlin administrators.
For a cost of €40 million ($53 million), EasyJet agreed to lease up to 25 ex-Air Berlin Airbus A320s for operations from Tegel, recruit 1,000 flightcrew formerly with the Oneworld member, and acquire other assets including the slots.
Speaking in November, EasyJet finance chief Andrew Findlay said that while the airline's Tegel operation would create a £60 million ($85 million) "headline" cost in 2018, it would become "earnings accretive" in 2019 and represent "attractive financial returns" in the long run, given the airport's strategic market position.
EasyJet, which had already been active at Berlin Schonefeld airport, is now the biggest operator at Tegel. EasyJet is, together with Ryanair, already the biggest operator on European routes from Schonefeld. It will lift seat capacity 3% in this segment this summer.
Eurowings is the other big mover – even accounting for capacity formerly operated under the Germanwings name. Factoring in Lufthansa mainline plus siblings Austrian Airlines and Swiss – all of which will operate increased capacity this summer – makes Lufthansa Group the biggest overall operator on short-haul European routes from Tegel.
Air Berlin had already operated some capacity for Eurowings under a wet-lease agreement. Eurowings capacity at Tegel has been boosted by its acquisition of German regional carrier LGW from Air Berlin's administrators.
EasyJet has launched 10 new Tegel routes not previously served from the airport. These include four Spanish routes – Alicante, Granada, Jerez and Menorca – as well as Ancona, Brindisi and Genoa in Italy. It has just disclosed plans to add eight new routes from Tegel, three of which - London Gatwick, Edinburgh and Paris Orly - involve switching some of its Schonefeld flights to Tegel.
EasyJet also launched its first German domestic flights, operating to Cologne, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Munich and Stuttgart from Tegel.
Speaking at the recent Connect event in Tbilisi, Johannes Mohrmann – senior manager key account and business development at Berlin Brandenburg airport – noted: "Last year, when Air Berlin stopped service, there was only Eurowings left, basically, in the domestic market. We also saw prices going up significantly, but now we are in the lucky position that EasyJet is serving all the major domestic destinations from Berlin on a high-frequency basis. It worked out quite well for us."
Overall seat capacity this summer from Tegel is roughly unchanged, but with fewer flights.
That is before a series of flights announced on 28 March by Laudamotion and Ryanair to be operated by the former from Tegel. Laudamotion will station four aircraft in Berlin from the start of June to operate 17 routes from Tegel - largely drawn from former Niki destinations - and including eight Spanish routes.
Air Berlin and Niki between them marketed around 50 routes out of Tegel last summer. Following Laudamotion's announcement it will serve Ibiza and Malaga, as well EasyJet's plan to begin Prague services - it leaves only Gdansk, Krakow and Milan Linate which will be unserved this summer from Tegel. Ryanair though now serves both Polish routes from Schonefeld, while Laudamotion will join EasyJet in operating a Milan Malpensa service from Tegel this summer.
Short-haul European capacity at Dusseldorf is set be down more than 10% year-on-year this summer.
Air Berlin and Niki last summer operated around 40 Dusseldorf routes, most of which had one or more carriers on them.
Of the routes where either was the sole operator, Eurowings has taken over Ponta Delgada in the Azores and Samos in Greece from Niki, and Salzburg and Stuttgart from Air Berlin. Only Bologna, Florence and Innsbruck have not been picked up from Dusseldorf.
Eurowings has made the most gains at the airport, and is comfortably the largest operator from Dusseldorf. But Lufthansa and Condor will also increase their capacity from the German hub this summer. The latter is expanding after its parent, Thomas Cook, acquired assets from the Air Berlin Aviation subsidiary.
While EasyJet and Ryanair lead the way in terms of seat capacity from Berlin overall, neither has made significant inroads at Dusseldorf.
EasyJet has taken on the Tegel-Dusseldorf route formerly operated by Air Berlin – a route on which Eurowings has also added capacity.
Ryanair this summer begins its first services from Dusseldorf and Tegel by starting flights to Palma de Mallorca.
Ryanair was a vocal critic of the deal allowing Lufthansa to acquire assets from Air Berlin. The Irish carrier's chief executive Michael O'Leary, speaking in Brussels in early March, returned to this theme. He said Ryanair wanted to grow in Germany, but that it was "very hard to base more aircraft in those airports, because you have Lufthansa [and its ex-Air Berlin slots] and Eurowings sitting there like bed-blockers, blocking all the morning slots".
Lufthansa did not get everything its own way with the regulators, however – failing to secure approval for a deal to acquire Niki in Austria. And ultimately, once IAG's bid for the carrier had been rejected after court rulings prompted the reopening of the insolvency process, Ryanair ended up acquiring the carrier by striking a deal with the successful bidder – Niki Lauda.
Laudamotion – a company controlled by Niki founder Lauda – acquired assets from the carrier at the start of March. It has since disclosed plans to serve Palma de Mallorca from a dozen points – including Cologne, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Hannover and Stuttgart – as well as services from Dusseldorf to Ibiza and Malaga.
Thomas Cook subsidiary Condor had earlier reached an agreement to market Laudamotion's planned flights from Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Stuttgart and Basel to Majorca, Ibiza and Malaga.
Laudamotion's network, which also includes holiday routes from Basel, Vienna and Zurich, is heavily based on routes previously operated by Niki.
Within days of Laudamotion's unveiling of its network plans, Ryanair struck its deal to acquire 75% of the Austrian carrier for €50 million. Ryanair will initially buy 24.9% of Laudamotion and plans to increase the stake to 75% subject to EU competition approval.
Ryanair will provide another €50 million for "year-one start-up and operating costs", along with "financial and management support", and will wet-lease six aircraft to Laudamotion to allow it to complete a 21 aircraft flying programme.
"Laudamotion has excellent slots in Palma [and] we've been growing there very rapidly," Ryanair chief operating officer Peter Bellew told FlightGlobal at an event in Brussels on 20 March. "Palma itself is growing very quickly. It's grown about 20% this year as an airport."
Bellew notes, however, that Ryanair does not currently plan to use Laudamotion's slots at the Spanish island airport or elsewhere for its own services.
He cites Ryanair's desire to accelerate growth in Austrian, German and Swiss markets as a key consideration behind its desire for a stake in Laudamotion.
"We've also been growing quickly [in the German market]," says Bellew. "We've nearly increased by a third there in the last 18 months or so. We feel there's loads of business there."
From Vienna, Laudamotion will in addition to Palma de Mallorca serve Brindisi, Ibiza, Kalamata, Lamezia Terme, Malaga, Paphos, Pisa and Santorini.
Austrian remains the biggest operator at Vienna, though, followed by fellow Lufthansa Group operator Eurowings – both of which are lifting capacity this summer over last year.
But there are also eye-catching advances being made by European low-cost operators EasyJet, Vueling and Wizz Air.
EasyJet, which has chosen Austria for its European air operator's certificate, will almost double seat capacity from capital Vienna this summer. That is largely driven by its high-frequency service from Tegel, which it has taken over from Air Berlin and operates in competition with Austrian. EasyJet has also added Basel and Milan Malpensa services.
Wizz will begin its first services from Vienna this summer, initially operating nine routes from the city. The Hungarian carrier only announced Vienna, its first Austrian services, in January. Alongside nine routes being added this winter, it has disclosed plans to add a further nine destinations next summer in early March – including its own Malpensa service.
Spanish carrier Vueling is also stepping up its presence in Vienna. While it is adding new flights to Palma de Mallorca, most of its seat growth comes – in keeping with its wider expansion strategy – through adding extra frequency on its Barcelona and Rome Fiumicino routes. Vueling's expansion at Vienna is particularly notable, given that it was the planned growth vehicle for IAG. The latter had planned to operate Niki routes via a subsidiary of Vueling.
Overall seat capacity at Vienna this summer is set to rise more than 3% compared with 2017.
Note: This article was updated on 28 March to include Berlin Tegel route announcements by EasyJet and Laudamotion respectively, but these flights are not yet reflected in the schedules data cited
Source: Cirium Dashboard