Stefan Pichler can be surprisingly blunt for a chief executive. When the head of struggling airline Air Berlin recently left an employee meeting, he astonished his staff with the admission: “I’ve got to go to Abu Dhabi now to raise money.” Abu Dhabi is the headquarters of Etihad, Air Berlin’s largest shareholder with a 29.21 percent stake.
Air Berlin, Germany’s second-largest carrier after Lufthansa, appears chronically unable to make a profit. Its 2015 loss is projected to be little changed from the deficit of almost €300 million, or $330 million, it posted for 2014.
That’s why its major shareholders have begun discussing a radical step, Handelsblatt has learned: delisting Air Berlin from the stock market. That could pave the way for a reorganization in the form of deeper cooperation with Italian national carrier Alitalia, which is 49 percent owned by Etihad and which is also struggling.
Air Berlin and Alitalia already work together via so-called code sharing, a sales partnership allowing the carriers to book seats on each other’s flights. Their frequent flyer bonus programs are also synchronized and they’ve even swapped aircraft to optimize their fleets.
The future cooperation could go much further, however. Sources close to Air Berlin said the airlines were discussing transferring parts of Air Berlin’s administration and operations to Alitalia. That would enable both airlines to cut costs significantly because many tasks could be performed in just one location.