Andrew Doyle/FRANKFURT

Lufthansa is taking the unprecedented step of threatening legal action against the German Government over its alleged failure to take adequate steps to tackle the country's chronic air traffic congestion problems.

The complaint comes despite figures that suggest a buoyant Lufthansa made a third of all airline profits worldwide last year.

The airline says the completion of a study identifying grounds for action has "given us the confidence that we will succeed if necessary". The German flag carrier is calling on the government to come up with proposals for alleviating air traffic bottlenecks, including making available more military airspace for civil flights.

Any legal action would centre on the airline's claim that Berlin has acted negligently and against public interest by failing to move the problem further up the political agenda. Furthermore, it alleges that the government and its subsidiary air traffic services provider DFS have a legal obligation to ensure that flights can flow freely. Lufthansa chairman Jürgen Weber declines to specify when he would consider resorting to the courts.


DFS argues that the German Government has been aggressive in pushing for a restructuring of European air space in conjunction with other European countries and therefore "we don't believe a legal case will be successful".

Despite the congestion woes, the Kosovo conflict and expanded capacity, the Lufthansa Group made 1999 pre-tax profits of nearly DM2 billion ($930 million) - ahead of expectations, but DM500 million short of 1998's record. Sales rose 9% to DM25 billion.

Highlighting a recent International Air Transport Association estimate that its 260 members earned DM3.9 million in 1999, Weber says that with net income of DM1.2 billion last year, "Lufthansa would account for almost a third of the cumulative profits of all airlines". Only Lufthansa Cargo and Lufthansa Technik had poor results.

Group chief financial officer Dr Karl-Ludwig Kley reports a strong first quarter, with passenger yields hardening. Lufthansa claims it is carrying proportionally double the premium class passengers of British Airways, at 20% of the total. The group predicts a 10% rise in operating profit for the year.

Source: Flight International