Emirates Airline president Tim Clark has said he would not rule out an alliance with German national carrier Lufthansa despite years of disagreement with the government over landing rights.
However, the 58-year-old airline would have to change its business model, Clark said.
The Dubai-based carrier has for years been involved in a bitter dispute with the German government over the right to fly to Berlin, on top of four other German cities.
It claims the refusal to open up the capital amounts to protectionism, while former Emirates executive vice chairman Maurice Flanagan has also accused Lufthansa of encouraging Canada to block Emirates’ expansion into the North American country.
“Lufthansa hates us with a passion,” Flanagan said a year ago.
But at the Arabian Travel Market on Monday, Clark said relationships in the international aviation industry were changing rapidly and if Lufthansa modernised, Emirates would consider an alliance.
“It has been a difficult time but we move on and you never say ‘never’ to any bilateral commercial agreement that can be sustained over a period of time,” he said.
“The way the alliance structures [and] the relationships are starting to unglue [is changing the industry]. Who would have ever have thought that Air France, one of the bastions of per-determinism with regard to the Gulf carriers would open its doors and set up a code share with, in this case, [UAE national carrier] Etihad?
“Things are changing and if you see an adaptation or a change in the business models of these legacy players then anything is possible. But as long as their business models remain as they are, and I would say I’m not being too disingenuous [by saying this], rooted in years of - decades of - practices that are still evident today, it’s very difficult for them to consider perhaps doing business with the likes of Emirates.
“But it’s not impossible, things are changing, anything is possible. And as long as somebody in Lufthansa stands up and says ‘it’s a good idea to deal with Qatar, it’s a good idea to deal with Emirates and Etihad then you may find there's a mesh of ideas. And maybe this could be the beginnings of something.”
In a surprise softening in his stance, Clark defended the German government’s decision to refuse Emirates landing rights in Berlin.
“The absence of other points in Germany, such as Berlin, is a pity. I like to think that it’s not just our loss, it’s a loss to the German traveller and public,” he said.
“But you have to remember that the German government has been particularly generous to Emirates and the carriers in the UAE because it allows us to fly to four points in Germany of our choice under a full open skies arrangement. There are not many cities and countries in Europe that offer that so it’s pointless trying to pursue and paint them into a corner of perhaps being a little bit difficult, because they’re not; they have been very generous.”
Emirates operates three daily flights to Frankfurt, two each to Dusseldorf and Hamburg and once daily to Munich.
“So if they will not [allow Emirates to land in Berlin] for reasons of competition, their national carrier, or whatever, so be it, we have to live with that decision,” Clark said.
“It’s a pity because I think we can add real value to the German economy ... but that’s life, don’t worry about it, get on, there’s plenty more work to do.”