German carrier airberlin has become the third network carrier in less than a month to announce its departure from the Association of European Airlines (AEA). The airline has terminated its membership of the lobbying group due to concerns over its ability to provide a common representation for the interests of the major European airlines as the Gulf airlines versus European airlines disagreement intensifies.
Last week it was reported that International Consolidated Airline Group (IAG) partners British Airways and Iberia both left the long-standing industry body in late March due to a disagreement with Lufthansa/Air France over their reaction towards the continued expansion of the big three Gulf carriers in Europe. The differences echo an issue between the Gulf carriers and the US majors on the other side of the Atlantic.
"We believe global liberalisation of our industry is fundamental to our future growth and we are not willing to compromise on this fundamental matter," said IAG in a statement.
“We see no future in a protectionist aviation policy in Europe. On the contrary; the liberalisation of bilateral agreements will promote further consolidation and new, innovative business models, thereby benefitting all passengers. With its current focus and representation of interests, the AEA is not fulfilling these ideas, but allowing itself to be driven by airlines which desperately try to erect a new wall around Europe.”Stefan Pichler
Chief Executive Officer, airberlin
The decision by the three airlines to leave the AEA relates to their close relationship to the fast-expanding Gulf carriers. Qatar Airways is a member of the Oneworld alliance alongside British Airways and Iberia and earlier this year became the largest shareholder in IAG. Meanwhile, Etihad Airways is an equity partner in airberlin and has been supporting its business realignment over recent years.
"We see no future in a protectionist aviation policy in Europe. On the contrary; the liberalisation of bilateral agreements will promote further consolidation and new, innovative business models, thereby benefitting all passengers. With its current focus and representation of interests, the AEA is not fulfilling these ideas, but allowing itself to be driven by airlines which desperately try to erect a new wall around Europe," said Stefan Pichler, chief executive officer, airberlin.
"I'm firmly convinced that new investment in the European aviation industry - from other regions of the world, for example - will not only preserve many jobs, but also create new ones. Increased competition will offer passengers more choice and more attractive services, and promote long-term growth and additional connections", he added.
airberlin, which ranks as the second largest German carrier, said it will now actively promote its own initiatives in Brussels.
The decision of three major European operators to depart the AEA shows the dispute between Europe and the Gulf carriers is clearly heating up. It is a very rare move that a key member of an EU trade association withdraws, but for three of its membership to leave shows significant concern at its abilities to fulfil its role. In case of disagreement between the largest members, an association tends to stay neutral, this news suggests that AEA may not have been taking that stance.
Before the airline departures AEA had brought together 29 European established scheduled network carriers. These collectively carry nearly 415 million passengers and 5.4 million tonnes of cargo each year, operating 2,500 aircraft serving 635 destinations in 160 countries with 11,600 flights a day. They provide around 365,000 jobs directly, and generate a total turnover of €100 billion.