CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - The head of Germany’s Lufthansa eased open the door to rival Gulf carriers on Monday, saying he would not rule out future commercial ties with one of the region’s heavyweight airlines.
Lufthansa, a leading member of the Star Alliance grouping of airlines, has criticized the market power of fast-growing Gulf airlines and is locked in a dispute with Dubai’s Emirates over the latter’s bid to gain more access to German airports.
After a period of rapid standalone growth, Gulf airlines have started forging links with carriers including Lufthansa’s two main European network rivals.
Qatar Airways plans to join oneworld, which includes British Airways ICAG.L, Abu Dhabi’s Etihad has forged several codeshare agreements with Skyteam member Air France AIRF.PA and Emirates has agreed to co-operate with Australia’s Qantas.
“It was interesting for us, and has also drawn a lot of attention, that the philosophies of the Gulf carriers seem to have been modified,” Lufthansa Chief Executive Christoph Franz told Reuters.
“We are observing and at the end of the day, if there are future circumstances in which Lufthansa could benefit from any kind of relationship, then why not -- but there is no rush.”
He was speaking as airlines meeting in Cape Town put the finishing touches to an agreement to co-operate on reducing emissions, in a deal backed by European and Gulf carriers.
In an interview, Franz also said Lufthansa LHAG.DE is in “advanced discussions” with Airbus EAD.PA and Boeing BA.N to buy around 50 long-haul jets.
The German airline is evaluating Boeing’s 777 and 787 families, including a new stretched version of the 787 Dreamliner, and the Airbus A350, he said.
He predicted a decision in the second half of the year, effectively ruling out Lufthansa emerging as a launch customer for the latest 787 model at the June 17-23 Paris air show.
Reporting by Tim Hepher, Siva Govindasamy, Wendell Roelf