Lufthansa Chairman and CEO Wolfgang Mayrhuber today called for the US government to loosen foreign airline ownership restrictions, saying limitations hinder the industry's global growth going forward.

The Star Alliance operator last year acquired a 19% stake in New York-based JetBlue Airways. Under current rules, a foreign carrier can invest up to 24.9% in a US carrier. Lufthansa "realized there was already foreign investment in there [JetBlue] so we were limited to 19%," said Mayrhuber today at a Wings Club luncheon in New York.

He notes, however, that the carrier "would have loved to do more," in terms purchasing a larger stake in the carrier, but was limited in the amount it could invest.

Lufthansa and JetBlue expect details regarding their commercial partnership to crystallize by next year. Previously Lufthansa executives have noted JetBlue's hub at JFK is attractive as their business class cabins on New York flights are often full, but the carrier has extra seats in economy it could potentially fill if onward connections were available.

Despite the expansion of the Star Alliance after Continental joins the grouping in late 2009, Mayrhuber stresses "we know we can bring more wealth to JetBlue".

With respect to loosening foreign ownership restrictions, the Lufthansa CEO also quipped he believes that if President-elect Barack Obama was chairman and CEO of an airline he would say: "We can do it."

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news