With losses mounting and options dwindling, struggling German No. 2 carrier Air Berlin on Sunday appointed its fourth chief executive in five years, in a move sources said would be a prelude to an eventual takeover by Lufthansa.
Air Berlin, which is 29-percent owned by Etihad of Abu Dhabi, said it had appointed Thomas Winkelmann, who led Lufthansa’s discount carrier Germanwings for a decade, as its new chief executive.
According to information obtained by Handelsblatt, the German government with state governments based in Munich and Düsseldorf have agreed to facilitate Air Berlin’s gradual integration into Lufthansa, which would lead to the effective merger of the nation’s top two airlines.
German government officials had been worried that Air Berlin’s biggest shareholder, Etihad, was poised to sell effective control of Air Berlin to another foreign carrier and intervened to keep the airline in German hands.
Mr. Winkelmann, the new Air Berlin chief executive, is replacing Stefan Pichler, a German who had come to Air Berlin after running tiny Fiji Airways. Mr. Pichler will step down in late January after almost two years at Air Berlin.