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Austrian Airlines: Who is Ready to Challenge Us and Germans?

Austrian Airlines: Who is Ready to Challenge Us and Germans?

05.10.2009 — Analysis

In September 2009 the European Commission approved the acquisition of Austrian Airlines, the national Austrian carrier, by Lufthansa Airlines (Germany). Ekaterina Chizhik, the head of the Urals branch of Austrian Airlines, told RusBusinessNews about how it affects the flights from the Urals region.

- What is going to happen with your scheduled flight Ekaterinburg-Vienna?

- Currently we are offering 3 flights a week from Ekaterinburg to Vienna, as well as Lufthansa which operates Ekaterinburg-Frankfurt flights. These flights are on different days of the week. Therefore, we are not competing with, but rather complementing, each other It is very handy for the passengers to fly out of Ekaterinburg with one airline and come back with the other one.

In winter we will operate three flights as well, although our days of the week will change: our departures from Ekaterinburg will be on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday, whilst Lufthansa's - on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday, respectively. Together we will be offering six flights a week.

I'd like to point out that we have been cooperating with Lufthansa for a long time now in terms of combining the tariffs. In addition, our company is a partner in the Miles&More frequent traveller programme and a bonus programme for small and medium businesses.

- Starting from 1 October 2009 it has become possible to get an Austrian visa in Ekaterinburg. What increase in the passenger traffic do you envisage?

- We hope that the number of people flying to Vienna from the Urals, especially business class passengers, will increase. Starting from 1 October we have been offering a special economy tariff on flights to Vienna; we have also developed a special offer for business class passengers. For business class travellers we are offering a free stay at the Angelo Airport Hotel on the night before departure. This offer will be of particular interest for passengers from other cities arriving in Ekaterinburg in the evening to catch an Austrian Airlines flight in the morning.

- How busy are your Ekaterinburg-Vienna flights today?

- Actually, we are quite happy with the numbers. We achieve the break-even level when 70% of our aircraft is filled. Obviously, we are trying to attract even more passengers. Together with our partners we have started designing special tours to Austria including visits to Vienna, Salzburg, Innsbruck and other cities. These tours will be offered in autumn and winter, as they are considered good for sightseeing. In winter and especially during the New Year holidays we expect our flights to be fully booked since people will be travelling to mountain skiing resorts.

In fact, European mountain ski resorts are quite popular with the travellers from the Urals. Since Europe is relatively small they can fly into Vienna and then go skiing in Germany or Switzerland. It should be all the more attractive since we do not charge for the transportation of ski equipment. As far as the Austrian ski resorts are concerned, we are currently advertising them together with our partners. We try to keep the travel agencies staff informed on what mountain slopes in Austria would suit professional skiers, which ones are good for amateurs, and which for rookies. Besides, there are glaciers that make it possible to ski until the end of March; at some of them skiing is possible all year round (for example, Hintertuks and Kaprun). You can ski at the glacier, and wear a T-shirt as you descend. So far, not many people are aware of this unique opportunity. We do hope that year after year people from the Urals will be getting more interested, though.

- Who are your partners?

- These are travel agencies and tour operators in Ekaterinburg and Chelyabinsk. Almost half of the air tickets are sold in Chelyabinsk, therefore we think this city to have a great potential. Moreover, there are scheduled bus services between Koltsovo airport and Chelyabinsk.

- Are the passengers flying from Ekaterinburg to Vienna mostly tourists?

- No, they are not. Unfortunately, until recently we have hardly seen any organised tourist groups on our flights. These are mostly passengers travelling to Europe on their own agenda. Therefore, we started designing tour packages, so that there would be more groups of tourists on board, i.e. passengers who booked a tour package that includes air fares. At the moment there is an average of about 10-15 such travellers per flight.

We are also targeting business class passengers. The flight is convenient for them: we depart from Ekaterinburg in the morning, thus upon arrival in any European city they still have the whole day at their disposal to do business. Besides, the new schedule also has a flight on Monday, at the very start of the business week. Business travellers account for about 30-40% of our clients.

- Austrian Airlines offers flights to other European cities via Vienna airport. How big is the share of transit passengers on your flights from Ekaterinburg?

- We now have more transit passengers than people going to Vienna proper. The reason is that the Vienna airport is very convenient for connections. Connecting time between the flights is only 25 minutes, which is the shortest in Europe. Our business travellers appreciate such rapid transits and efficiency of the Vienna airport staff.

We would like to hope that the number of people flying to Austria will increase soon due to the fact that Austrian visas can now obtained in Ekaterinburg and the attractive prices of tour packages to Vienna which will include our air fares. We also offer a long weekend in Vienna with an outbound flight on Saturday and an inbound flight on Monday evening.

- Czech Airlines which offers flights to Prague is obviously your major competitor in flights to Europe, is this right?

- I wouldn't say so. Many foreign carriers operate flights from Ekaterinburg to Europe. However, if we only consider direct flights from Ekaterinburg, Prague can be considered a rival in the tourist sector. When I came to Ekaterinburg a month ago I was surprised that package tours to Prague are very popular with the locals, but still they hardly ever go to Vienna. Probably it is due to the fact that the Consulate General of Czech Republic has long been issuing visas in Ekaterinburg, whereas Austrian visas have been offered quite recently.

The interview has been prepared by Pavel Kober

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