Ryanair squeezes Lufthansa by tripling jets

(Remko de Waal, AFP)
(Remko de Waal, AFP)

Frankfurt - Ryanair plans to more than triple the number of planes based at Frankfurt airport next winter, boosting the low-cost carrier’s position in Deutsche Lufthansa's backyard.

The Dublin-based airline will increase the number of jets at Lufthansa’s main hub to seven after initiating expansion there in November with plans for just two planes, CEO Michael O’Leary said at a press conference in Frankfurt.

Ryanair will boost routes from the airport to 24 from four, with the services to include business-oriented flights to London, Madrid and Milan as well as traditional leisure destinations.

Ryanair is taking advantage of its low cost base to challenge legacy carriers on short-haul routes. The goal is to effectively squeeze rival carriers out of the segment and offer feeder services to their long-haul routes. With the push, CEO O’Leary had to backtrack on previous commitments to never fly to the German financial center’s main airport.

“We’re a bit of a pimple on the side of the big beast of Lufthansa,” O’Leary said on Tuesday. While “we’re very pleased to be flying” from Frankfurt’s hub, “it is one of the most expensive airports in Germany.”

O’Leary said Ryanair is set to have the second biggest market share in Germany by the end of the year, overtaking struggling Air Berlin, which is halving its core fleet. Amid pressure from Ryanair and other low-cost rivals, Lufthansa has started to cooperate with Air Berlin and its backer, Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways.

The Ryanair CEO hit out again at Lufthansa’s plans to lease 38 Air Berlin aircraft, adding that the carrier has submitted an objection on competition grounds.

“There seems to be no problem with biggest airline effectively closing down the second biggest,” O’Leary said. “We think this is very bad for consumers.”

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