Germany is examining codeshare plans between Air Berlin and shareholder Etihad Airways, a move the German airline says is an attempt to reinterpret a bilateral agreement with the United Arab Emirates.
The German federal aviation authority (LBA) checks codeshare deals every time airlines submit winter and summer schedules for flights to and from Germany. The two airlines have shared flight codes since 2012 and the LBA has approved all six flight plans.
Air Berlin said on Tuesday that the authorities were trying to put a new spin on the provisions of an air transport agreement between Germany and the United Arab Emirates during the review of the airlines’ winter schedules.
The agreement governs flight traffic rights between the two countries and dictates how often Gulf airlines can fly to Germany, and to which airports.
“The Ministry of Transport is seeking to create a new interpretation of the Air Transport Agreement which fundamentally alters the provisions in respect to flights due to be operated in a few weeks,” Air Berlin said in a statement.
Etihad, which has been building up its network by taking minority stakes in airlines from Air Berlin to Alitalia, is under investigation by German authorities as to whether it exercises too much control over Air Berlin.
That investigation is part of a wider European Commission investigation into foreign carriers’ shareholdings in European airlines, which must remain under European control to receive and keep an operating licence for the region.
Air Berlin, which is struggling to return to profitability after a rapid expansion left it saddled with debt, gets tens of millions of euros in annual sales from codeshares with Etihad — which owns a 29 per cent stake in the German airline.
It is common practice for two or more airlines to cooperate on routes with codeshare deals, with one giving their flight number to a flight operated by a partner airline. The deals means carriers can expand their networks at little extra cost and fill planes more easily.
German daily Handelsblatt said the LBA was examining about 30 routes, equivalent to about half of the codeshare routes between Etihad and Air Berlin.
The LBA said it was examining the winter flight plan submitted by Etihad but declined to comment further.
Air Berlin, Germany’s second largest airline after Lufthansa , said it still expected the authorities to stick to the existing bilateral agreement, adding that Germany could not change such an agreement unilaterally.
“(Therefore) we expect that these codeshare routes will be approved for the imminent winter season and beyond,” a spokesman for the airline said.
Etihad adds its flight code to Air Berlin flights from Germany to Abu Dhabi as well as to other European destinations. Air Berlin in turn adds its airline code to Etihad flights from Abu Dhabi to destinations such as Bangkok and Singapore.
“We are in ongoing discussions with the LBA and cannot speculate or comment about any potential outcomes or impacts arising from the recent LBA correspondence,” Etihad said in a statement.