Regional air routes shorter than three hours are no longer worth flying because of competition from high-speed trains, says Reinhard Santner, chairman and chief executive of German carrier Eurowings.

Competition with Germany's high-speed Inter-City Express (ICE) trains has become increasingly strong, forcing regional airlines to shift their focus from domestic routes to developing their European network, says Santner. "The German market alone is too small, "he says, adding that it is no longer worth flying against direct competition from trains on routes under three hours.

According to Santner, Eurowings has pulled out of several routes, such as Hanover-Berlin and Hanover-Nuremburg, as a direct result of competition from trains. Longer domestic routes are growing, however, with Frankfurt-Berlin in particular experiencing a boom: Eurowings has recently doubled its frequencies on this route to eight flights a day.

The German Government has just released DM9 billion ($5.3 billion) for developing the rail network, including routes from Nuremburg to Leipzig via Erfurt and Halle, Karlsruhe to Dresden via Stuttgart and Nuremburg, and improvements to the existing Munich to Augsburg stretch. Construction is to get under way in the coming year on the planned Transrapid monorail between Berlin and Hamburg.

German rail company Deutsche Bahn says that its goal is "to replace domestic air routes [with rail links] as far as possible". It is co-operating more closely with Lufthansa, which is involved in managing the Transrapid project and sees the rail system becoming a valuable feeder into its international network.

The rail company has "Rail and Fly" joint ticketing agreements with 83 airlines, and is to open a new rail terminal at Frankfurt airport in 1999.

Source: Flight International