Growth in Asia demands daily access to Europe
Among the service innovations Lufthansa has planned to keep pace with Asia's robust growth this year, the most significant will be a thrice weekly direct flight schedule between Hong Kong and Munich, beginning April.
The Airbus 340 service will leverage Munich's position as Germany's eastern air hub, with convenient access to the emerging economies of eastern and southern Europe.
'Access to these regions is becoming more and more important, not only for Europe, because these countries are trying to get into the European Union, but also for Asia,' said Juergen Thomsen, Lufthansa's general manager for Southern China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau. 'We see that a lot of Asian traffic is going into these countries.'
Travellers and cargo arriving in Munich can transfer to an extensive network of connecting flights that offer convenient access to neighbouring countries.
'It's a hub and spoke system that we have. You fly into it, and from there you have flights out of Munich into these areas via either Lufthansa or our Star Alliance partner Austrian Airlines.'
Lufthansa has plans to boost the Hong Kong-to-Munich flight schedule up to a daily service, along with daily access between Shanghai and Frankfurt.
Currently, Japan accounts for the airline's heaviest traffic between Europe and Asia. The Greater China market, however, is one of the fastest growing areas of the overall Asian network.
The Lufthansa Group recorded a 7.4 per cent increase in passenger volume to 22.6 million for the first six months of 2000 over the year-earlier period. Network wide, the passenger loads increased 0.7 per cent during the period to 70.8 per cent.
Mr Thomsen said the group has achieved 40 per cent profit gains over the first three quarters of 2000, setting the company on track for record performance. 'We are confident year 2000 will be the best year in our history.'
And what is on an airline executive's wish list when it comes to the China market?
'A more liberalised environment where we can have free access to markets and free travel facilities, which means granting passports and visas to Chinese nationals seeking to travel into Europe,' Mr Thomsen said.
'China has made so much progress in the past years with new facilities, and we have quite a number of traffic rights compared to other airlines. I think the development is on the right track.'
Among other service highlights, he cites the advantages of joining the 15-member airline Star Alliance as crucial to supporting a customer-first concept at a time when passengers are increasingly looking for convenience and schedule frequency.
'The passenger wants to travel at the time he wants to travel, not when the airline is flying,' Mr Thomsen said. The airline is studying the issue of whether to purchase the 990-seat Airbus 3XX, he said.
According to Airbus Industrie, global passenger traffic is forecast to grow at an average annual rate of 4.9 per cent until 2019.