INTERVIEW: Joachim Steinbach, Lufthansa

Lufthansa's Middle East vice president talks about regional business.
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Joachim Steinbach, vice president of Lufthansa in the Middle East, Africa and Southeast Europe, explains why the carrier is standing united with its subsidiaries bmi and SWISS in Dubai.

How has Lufthansa performed with its Middle East operations in the past year?
Our business was good in 2010, with a year-over-year increase of approximately 13% on flights from the Middle East to Germany. Of course, the first quarter was very challenging due to the hard winter and then we took a big hit from the disruptions caused by the volcanic ash cloud, which severely hindered air traffic in Europe. I would say that business started to pick up from May onwards.

Which routes have performed the best?
Following our massive investment in the Saudi Arabian markets since 2009, we are recording very favourable business trends on services to Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam. To complement its Riyadh-Frankfurt route, Lufthansa introduced a new service from Riyadh to Munich, its hub in southern Germany and now serves the Kingdom with 20 flights a week. And together with our subsidiary bmi, which flies from Saudi Arabia to London-Heathrow, we come to 32 weekly flights. Other strong performers were the UAE to Germany route, with a year-over-year increase of almost 10% in passenger volumes.

What have been the biggest Middle East highlights for Lufthansa in the past year?
We had a number of major highlights in 2010. One breakthrough was certainly Lufthansa’s return to Iraq, after a 20 year interval. We launched operations to the city of Erbil, in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. Together with our subsidiary and partner Austrian Airlines, we operate eight flights a week from Erbil to Frankfurt and to Vienna. Another highlight was the launch of our Riyadh-Munich service and last but not least, we moved into new premises at the Dubai World Trade Centre.

What prompted this move to the new offices in Dubai World Trade Centre?
Lufthansa has been serving Dubai and Abu Dhabi since 1976, so we have been in the United Arab Emirates for over 30 years now with offices in the country. However, a decision was made last year to move the offices of our group airlines under one roof. Lufthansa, Swiss International Air Lines and also Austrian Airlines serve Dubai from their respective hub airports in Frankfurt, Munich, Zurich and Vienna. They are all part of Lufthansa Group and we had been looking for some time to unite the staff and managements of the different airlines under one roof. It makes it easier to work together. Clearly it also enhances the dialogue and the exchange of ideas between our staff.

What type of offices did SWISS and bmi have in the United Arab Emirates before this relocation with Lufthansa?
SWISS operates a daily flight from Zurich to Dubai and traditionally had a town office here. Bmi has no flight service to Dubai at the moment, but its area management for the Middle East and Africa is located here. Austrian Airlines is also looking to move in, which would then unite the whole airline family.

Has the initial passenger response been favourable for the new premises?
Yes, feedback from customers who visit us at our new ticket office in Dubai World Trade Centre is positive. The new premises have a fresh look and feel and the building location is very central.

What are your overall predictions for the Middle East market this year?
You know, it is difficult to make predictions in the current environment, especially when they concern the future, but seeing how demand has returned to more normal levels again, we are cautiously optimistic. We expect the growth trend to continue within the same bandwidth. As in the past years we expect the markets in the Middle East to be among the most dynamic ones. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, and also Iraq should continue to perform strongly.

How does Lufthansa plan to capitalise on this expected growth in the region?
Since we have just opened two new routes in 2010, we want to concentrate on securing their long-term success. We also aim to further increase our overall market share on routes between the Middle East and Europe. And we continuously screen the Middle East for new opportunities. If there are opportunities, and we are sure there will be, we are there to provide mobility and bring choice and superior Lufthansa travel flexibility to businesses and private individuals alike.

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