Lufthansa owned Austrian Airlines plans to invest €200 million to expand its Airbus fleet of single-aisle A320 family aircraft as part of a strategic turnaround plan that will help the Vienna-based airline better compete with low-cost carriers who have moved in on its territory. Vienna International Airport (VIE) has seen a double-digit rise in passenger numbers in the last year after the likes of easyJet, Wizz Air and even IAG’s new LEVEL brand opened bases at the airport.
Within the next three years, Austrian Airlines plans to increase the number of A320 aircraft in its fleet by 10 from its current number of 36 planes. At the same time, Austrian says it will retire its ageing fleet of 18 turboprop Bombardier Dash 8’s. Overall, seating capacity will increase by more than 10%.
At some point in the future, Austrian also says it intends to retire its fleet of Boeing 767 long-haul aircraft which have an average age of 23-years. Austrian doesn’t yet have a date for when it will replace these aircraft although it says a lifespan of 30-years or more isn’t unusual with proper maintenance and care so the chance of an upgrade anytime soon is pretty unlikely.
In light of its multi-million Euro investment, Austrian’s chief executive Alexis von Hoensbroech said it should “be considered as a clear challenge to the increasingly tough competition in Vienna”, going onto explain that the airline was “prepared to take further steps to defend our position at our flight hub in Vienna.”
Vienna has seen a huge expansion of low-cost airlines following the collapse of airberlin and homegrown Niki. Both easyJet and Wizz Air have established bases at the airport, while IAG chose Vienna for the expansion of its low-cost LEVEL brand into the short-haul market. At the same time, Niki has been reborn as Laudamotion with significant backing from Ryanair and has plans to add at least six new A320 aircraft by Summer 2019.
The booming low-cost market has been partly driven by incentives offered by the airport which offers discounts on airport fee’s for between three and five years. The airport operator has previously admitted that it expects there to be some overcapacity and changes may be introduced in 2020.
Austrian Airlines had struggled to turn a profit for a number of years but after what it calls a “tough restructuring period” the airline is now operating profitability and last year the carrier grew its passenger numbers by more than one million – representing an 8.5% rise of the year previous.
The airline is leading a Lufthansa-wide project called “New Premium” which aims to place a greater emphasis on the customer and turn the carrier into the airline of choice for passengers flying from and to Vienna.