Conversation with Lufthansa CEO: How Europe’s largest airline will fly in the post-pandemic era

Three days ago, Jens Ritter landed in Shanghai from Frankfurt on Lufthansa flight LH732 to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Shanghai-Frankfurt route.

In the past 30 years, Ritter has flown more than 20 flights to Shanghai as captain, and today he is a member of the Executive Board and CEO of Lufthansa. Shanghai is also the first Asian market he has officially visited since taking office as CEO.

“In the spring of 1994, Lufthansa was the first European airline to open a route from Shanghai to Frankfurt. Now the number of flights to Shanghai has returned to pre-epidemic levels,” Ritter said in an exclusive interview with a reporter from China Business News. Lufthansa is evaluating the possibility of further increasing capacity in China, but this also depends on the speed of delivery of new aircraft. Currently, restrictions on delayed aircraft delivery are the company’s biggest challenge in continuing to restore capacity in the post-epidemic era.

What’s so difficult about resuming flights?

As the largest German flag carrier in Europe, Lufthansa has two major flight hubs in Frankfurt and Munich, Germany, and mainly flies to China from these two cities.

Ritter told reporters that since the centralized quarantine of incoming passengers was lifted in January 2023, Lufthansa has been gradually resuming flights to China. After adding a direct flight from Shanghai to Frankfurt this month, Lufthansa’s capacity in the Shanghai market has returned to pre-epidemic levels by providing two daily direct flights from Shanghai to Frankfurt and one daily direct flight from Shanghai to Munich. .

Looking at the entire Chinese market, Lufthansa’s current capacity has returned to about 70% of pre-epidemic levels, but the passenger load factor has reached about 80%, and some routes are close to 99.5% during the peak season.

“In my opinion, German companies are very committed to developing in the Chinese market, and after China implemented a visa-free policy for some European countries, it also greatly strengthened the recovery of international flights. This is why we continue to increase capacity in China. ,” Ritter told reporters that in addition to the existing direct flights in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Beijing, Lufthansa is also evaluating the resumption and opening of routes to other cities in China, such as Shenzhen, Nanjing, Shenyang and Qingdao.

In November 2023, China announced a trial expansion of the scope of unilateral visa-free countries. It will trial a unilateral visa-free policy for ordinary passport holders from six countries: France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and Malaysia. From December 1, 2023 to During November 30, 2024, ordinary passport holders from the above countries who come to China for business, tourism, visiting relatives and friends, and transit for no more than 15 days can enter China without a visa.

Ritter took advantage of the above-mentioned visa-free policy to visit China this time. He believes that the above-mentioned policy has also brought positive assistance to the increase in passenger flow between China and Europe. “Resuming more flights first depends on demand, and when demand is sufficient, it depends on whether our airline’s capacity can match it, firstly, crew and other personnel, and secondly, aircraft capacity. At present, we have been equipped with sufficient Crews, but the biggest problem now is the delayed delivery of aircraft. Once the delivery of new aircraft from Boeing and Airbus can be accelerated, we will also evaluate the possibility of opening more routes.”