Niki Lauda quits his airline to focus on F1 again; NIKI dumps Central European routes for Greece and Scandinavia


Niki Lauda, the three-time Formula 1 World Champion (1975/77/84), and founder of airberlin’s Austrian subsidiary NIKI, has announced that he is standing down from the airline’s board to concentrate on his new role as chairman of the Mercedes Formula 1 team, which in 2013 will see the arrival of former McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton, replacing seven-times World Champion Michael Schumacher.

NIKI was the second airline he has named after himself, having founded Lauda Air in 1979, which he later sold to his former rivals, Austrian Airlines, in 2000. In 2003 NIKI emerged from the failed carrier Aero Lloyd Austria, and almost immediately forged a very close co-operation with airberlin, whose influence and control gradually increased until NIKI became a wholly-owned subsidiary in November 2011. Recently a new livery was introduced to bring NIKI’s look much more in-line with that of its parent, and Vienna has become one of the airberlin group’s four major hubs (the others are Berlin Tegel, Düsseldorf and Palma de Mallorca).

5 million passengers in 2012; E190s being phased out

The airline currently operates a fleet of 26 aircraft; 19 Airbus A320-series aircraft and seven Embraer E190s. This has enabled NIKI to transport some five million passengers in 2012, up from 4.5 million in 2011 and 3.4 million in 2010. In 2011 it generated revenues of around €450 million, indicating an average revenue per passenger of around €100. During the early part of 2013 the Embraer E190s will be phased out (although they will be retained within the airberlin group) while four additional Airbus aircraft will be added to the fleet, including three factory-fresh A320s. As a result the airline’s fleet this summer will be rationalised on four A321s, 13 A320s, and six A319s.

Central European cuts; Greece and Scandinavia set to grow

NIKI is the second busiest carrier at Vienna where it is much more of a nuisance to Austrian Airlines than Lauda Air ever was. But later this month NIKI will drop non-stop services from Vienna to three Central European destinations: Belgrade (Serbia), Bucharest (Romania) and Sofia (Bulgaria). All three of these routes were launched on the same day, 10 February 2010 with the soon-to-be phased-out E190s, and all will apparently end on the same day (27 January 2013), almost exactly three years later.

Instead, with the all-Airbus fleet this summer, NIKI is launching several new seasonal “summer sun” routes to Greek destinations, including Kalamata, Karpathos, Kavala, Mytilene and Volos – most of these destinations will be served with just a single weekly flight. As a result NIKI’s capacity to Greece from Vienna this summer will grow by around 35%.

The other market to see significant capacity growth this summer is Scandinavia. Although weekly frequencies will remain virtually unchanged on both the Copenhagen and Stockholm routes, the number of available seats will grow as NIKI replaces the E190s currently operating the route with larger A320s.

NIKI in Vienna Weekly departing seats (and year-on-year change)

Source: OAG Max Online for w/c 6 August 2012 and w/c 5 August 2013. DATCH countries are Germany (D), Austria (AT) and Switzerland (CH).

Capacity to German-speaking markets will fall some 16%. Zurich, Palma and Frankfurt will remain NIKI’s three biggest routes in terms of weekly seat capacity, but this summer Copenhagen and Milan Malpensa will replace Paris CDG and Rome Fiumicino in the airline’s top five destinations. According to OAG data a total of 48 destinations will be served by NIKI non-stop from Vienna this summer, up from 46 in summer 2012.

Niki Lauda is by far the most successful F1 driver in airline management with Lauda Air (bought by Austrian Airlines in 2000) and NIKI, (bought by airberlin in 2013).

Several airline bosses have got involved in Formula 1: Kingfisher's Vijay Mallya at Force India, AirAsia's Tony Fernandes at Caterham, and Sir Richard Branson at (surprise) Virgin Racing. But Niki Lauda is by far the most successful F1 driver in airline management with Lauda Air (bought by Austrian Airlines in 2000) and NIKI, (bought by airberlin in 2011). Having used up his first and second names, he’ll presumably have to call the next airline Niki Lauda Air. And don’t write-off a comeback: The trademark baseball hat hides scars from a crash at the 1976 German Grand Prix where the three-times World Champ received the last rites.


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