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Austrian Airlines to cut fleet if no stake sale

Loss-making Austrian Airlines would need to halve its fleet to 40 to 50 planes if no strategic partner bought into the carrier, a board member said.

Austria’s government earlier this week agreed to offer part of its 43% stake in the carrier to foreign airlines after Austrian warned of widening losses this year due to the rise in fuel prices and the global economic slowdown.

A majority of Austrian Airline’s board favors a sale to Germany’s Lufthansa, though other possible buyers discussed by the airline operator include Air France, Aeroflot and Turkish Airlines. “Without a large partner we simply cannot stem the synergies we need for our long-distance routes,” Andreas Bierwirth, Austrian’s chief commercial officer, told journalists during a trip to Syria’s capital Damascus. “Without a partner, Austrian Airlines would have to shrink to 40 or 50 aircraft,” from its current around 100, he said.

Faced with increasing competition from budget airline operators in eastern Europe, Austrian would venture further east, for example to Kazakhstan, as well as focusing on destinations in the Middle East. Declining to name his preference, Bierwirth said any of the four possible buyers mentioned could be a match. “We can do it with anyone on the list, and the interest is there. Lufthansa said it was interested, Air France didn’t say anything to the contrary, and Aeroflot could always come back.”

Aeroflot said it would not place a bid for a stake in Austrian as the risks outweighed the rewards. Austrian shares lost as much as 3.7% to €4.13. (Reuters)