‘We serve the world’

UWE WRIEDT, Lufthansa’s general manager, passenger sales, UAE, and director for the Gulf and Pakistan, talks to JONNA SIMON about the airline, its plans for the future and more

TTN: Lufthansa is one of the world’s great airlines and has loyal customers from the Star Alliance – how would you describe the carrier’s present position in the Gulf? Growing? Healthy? Declining?
Uwe Wriedt: Lufthansa is very well positioned in the Gulf and the Middle East. We have a great market in Kuwait and the UAE.

We have flights into all Gulf countries except to Bahrain and Qatar for the time being. We have services to Oman and daily flights to Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
All flights originate in Frankfurt but, from next month, we will also have daily flights from Munich to Dubai. The answer is yes, we are growing and from November we will enjoy a capacity increase of 60 per cent.

How long has Lufthansa been flying to the UAE?
Next year, Lufthansa will have been flying to the UAE for 30 years. In 2006, we can also celebrate our 50th anniversary of flying to the Middle East – and Kuwait will be 50 years too.

Apart from the new flights from Munich this year, do you have any other expansion plans for this region?
The region is growing tremendously, especially in the UAE in the form of investments into properties. Lufthansa, as a major hub carrier, wants to participate in this growth. Plans are in place albeit not finalised as yet, but that might happen next year or in 2007, all dependent on our capacity. Lufthansa currently has 335 aircraft and for our planning division to place these aircraft in strategically important markets can be quite difficult. A big priority for Lufthansa is the growing markets in China and India.

What type of passengers are coming to Dubai with Lufthansa? Tourists? Business people? Can you give me the percentages?
Lufthansa is focusing on the business traveller, we have always marketed ourselves as a business traveller’s airline. We are aiming for the high-yield passenger but we are, of course, also interested in the Economy class passenger. Today, we offer a very good product to our Economy class passenger. The percentages are around 50-50.

What type of aircraft do you fly on these routes?
To Dubai, till the end of the summer schedule, we fly Airbus A340s and from November, the beginning of the winter schedule, we will fly with a jumbo jet, Boeing 747, which is the largest passenger jet in our fleet. From Munich, it will be an Airbus A340 as well.
In Germany, we have introduced a new, large terminal specifically for First class passengers and commercial travellers. They are passengers, who fly more than 600,000 miles a year. They are offered special lounges and services. Furthermore, we have a special contract for these passengers with the largest US-based charter company, in fact, no other airline worldwide has signed such a contract. We fly these premium passengers from Dubai to Frankfurt or Munich, and they have aircraft to aircraft transit time of maximum 30 minutes including baggage and immigration. Then, we can fly them on private jets to more than 1,000 airports in Europe.

Do you find that Arab travellers visit Germany mainly as tourists or as business people?
According to the German National Tourist Board, which has offices in Dubai, Arab nationals take vacations in Germany much more often than in previous years.
When it comes to health or wellness visits, there has been an increase, particularly to Munich. Previously, many Arabs preferred Southern Germany because of the mountains and the spectacular scenery but, recently, we have noticed that several of our passengers seem to like Northern Germany, especially cities such as Hamburg and Flensburg.

Are more Arabs visiting German spas and health institutions?
In the Gulf, Lufthansa has very close co-operation with an association called the German Arab Medical Network. In Germany, we have an exclusive partner and we have set up a network of wellness centres and medical institutions covering the whole country with about 40 providers covering the whole catalogue of medical conditions and needs.

Lufthansa operates an important cargo division – do you have any special freighter flights in the UAE? I know that, at one stage, you had a large freight operation in Sharjah, is this ongoing?
The Lufthansa Cargo hub for the Middle East is in Sharjah. We bring in cargo from Germany and fly it to Sharjah, where it is distributed to other parts of the world as well as locally.

We hear so much about jet fuel prices and surcharges. This presumably will pile on the costs for airlines and eventually result in higher fares for all passengers. Do you agree with this summary?
Fuel is one of the major costs of any airline. At Lufthansa, we hedge the cost of fuel, that is we fix the fuel prices for a specific period of time. In the past, we have been lucky in getting the hedging price right. Unfortunately, it did not cover the total amount of fuel needed. The surcharges have been implemented, but they do not cover the total amount needed. What is left is the increase in fares, as you suggested, but when that will come into effect depends on our competition.

If you had to explain the difference between Lufthansa and other airlines on the same level in just a few words, what would you say?
Lufthansa is recognised worldwide as a premium-class airline and as a truly global carrier in combination with our partners in the Star Alliance. You could say, we serve the world! We have the largest airline network with the Star Alliance. Passengers recognise the seamless travel we offer for Lufthansa alone and within the Star Alliance, and mostly travel is hassle-free.

On a personal note, can you give me a few details such as how long have you been in the UAE? What were you doing before arriving in Dubai?
I have been four years in Dubai. Before that I was in Frankfurt, responsible for a department working directly with the Lufthansa Board and the Brussels Parliament on interlining and political legal issues concerning sale, marketing and distribution. Prior to that, I was in Geneva and I have also been based in Washington DC and Paris.

What is your opinion of Dubai as a place to live?
For an expatriate, Dubai is an easy place to live. It offers a good environment. It is a very exciting place to live with all the new projects being implemented in the emirate. I like the multi-cultural aspect of living here and people are very helpful and accommodating.