Air Berlin On-Time Performance Nosedives in Transformation Toll

  • 56% of April flights have been on time, scheduling firm says
  • Labor leaders say turnaround burdens staff, with sick leave up

Air Berlin Plc’s service levels have fallen sharply this month in a sign that the unprofitable German carrier is struggling with the process of downsizing into a smaller network airline focused on long-haul services.

Just 56.4 percent of Air Berlin flights arrived on time through April 17, the lowest reading in at least 16 months and 30 percentage points below the peak in that period, according to data provided by flight-scheduling firm OAG. The airline blamed winter weather, air-traffic control issues and problems with a new ground-handling provider for the poorer performance, while internal tensions have caused flight attendants to voice their frustration.

Air Berlin is undergoing a radical downsizing as it cuts its mainline fleet by about half, leasing 38 Airbus SE single-aisle A320 aircraft to Deutsche Lufthansa AG and merging its leisure-travel operations with the German airline arm of tour operator TUI AG. The carrier will focus on transatlantic routes and related feeder traffic through its Berlin and Dusseldorf hubs after years of turnaround efforts and cost-cutting programs failed to restore earnings.

The transformation is frustrating and scaring employees and has caused more workers to call in sick, according to an April 10 letter from cabin-crew representatives to management. Flight attendants said conditions were “unspeakable,” with excessive workloads, nonexistent ground services at some airports and snags involving baggage-handling operators, according to the letter obtained by Bloomberg.

The airline on April 12 postponed the introduction of routes to San Francisco and Los Angeles from early May to later that month, citing performance issues with new ground-handling provider AeroGround at the carrier’s Berlin Tegel airport hub.

Snowfall, Fog

The bulk of delays stem from outdated equipment and a lack of staffing at the contractor, which checks in Air Berlin passengers, handles luggage and performs other services such as shifting planes on the ground, said Christian Liepack, a spokesman for the airline. Bad weather, including snowfall and fog in Munich, and strikes by air traffic controllers in Italy and France also contributed to the “runaway” drop in punctuality this month, he said on Thursday.

AeroGround has assigned 40 employees from Munich to Berlin temporarily until newly hired permanent workers can complete security clearances and take their posts, said Ingo Anspach, a spokesman for Munich airport, which owns the ground handler. It also sent extra equipment to Tegel, and performance “clearly improved” with these measures, he said.

This month’s drop marks a deterioration from Air Berlin’s already patchy performance record. The carrier ranked 96th out of 103 airlines, with a 75.6 percent on-time rate for the 12 months through March, according to a separate statement from OAG. German rival Lufthansa placed 50th, at 82 percent of flights on time, while the Lufthansa-Turkish Airlines joint venture SunExpress stood at 4th, at 89.7 percent. Service is defined as on time if a plane arrives less than 15 minutes late.

Air Berlin is scheduled to report first-quarter earnings on April 27.

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