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Air Berlin Urged to Focus on Frankfurt, Link to Oneworld Routes

Air Berlin Plc, the German airline that agreed to join the Oneworld alliance last month, should refocus its operations on Frankfurt to provide better links with the flights of its new partners, the airport’s owner said.

Oneworld members including American Airlines, Qantas Airways Ltd., Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd., Japan Airlines Corp. and Chile’s Lan Airlines SA all have services to Frankfurt, Germany’s main financial center, while offering no direct flights to Air Berlin’s current base in the German capital.

“There are strong potential benefits from a Oneworld hub in Frankfurt, not only for the airlines but also for us,” Fraport AG Chief Financial Officer Matthias Zieschang said today on a conference call. “They can’t create a hub in Berlin.”

Air Berlin, the first discount airline to join one of the three main global groupings, welcomes Fraport’s stance after previously finding it tough to gain access to Frankfurt, the main hub of Star Alliance member Deutsche Lufthansa AG, spokesman Hans-Christoph Noack said in an interview. The carrier has more than 600 weekly flights from Berlin and more than 500 from Dusseldorf, compared with fewer than 150 from Frankfurt.

“There’s no doubt that our membership in Oneworld and the completion of the fourth runway in Frankfurt next year open new perspectives,” Noack said by telephone. “And if Fraport offers the scenario of a Oneworld hub, that’s a positive signal.”

Fraport is spending 4 billion euros ($5.3 billion) on a third terminal and fourth runway which will increase Frankfurt’s capacity by 52 percent to 126 takeoffs and landings per hour.

‘Feeder Function’

Air Berlin could build the airport into its main transit hub, connecting with the incoming and outgoing flights of Oneworld members, Zieschang said. The carrier, Germany’s second-biggest after Lufthansa, said last month it would seek full membership of the alliance by early 2012.

“Air Berlin would form a good link to Oneworld by taking over a feeder function,” the Fraport CEO said.

Air Berlin has been limited in its Frankfurt operations by the scarcity of slots, Noack said. The company doesn’t plan to reduce activities in Berlin and aims to benefit from a new international airport scheduled to open there in 2011, he said.

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