The recent announcement that Air Berlin is joining the oneworld alliance signals a major change in alliance strategy and could have a profound impact on the competitive environment in the European air travel market in the coming years.
With most major, full service airlines already part of an alliance, the three global airline alliances are beginning to look at the largest remaining independent airlines, many of which are low cost carriers. Though not quite of the bare bones mold of Ryanair or easyJet, Air Berlin is still considered a low cost airline in many ways offering a simple one cabin economy class on all except a handful of long haul flights. For oneworld, adding a low cost airline to its ranks is definitely a departure from the alliance’s longstanding bias towards full service, global players like American Airlines, British Airways, and Qantas Airways.
With Air Berlin joining oneworld, we are likely to see more low cost airlines across the globe signing on with a major alliance in the next few years. Acquiring Air Berlin gives oneworld a strong foothold in the large German air travel market and another major east-west hub located in the heart of Europe.
Still lagging behind other more mature European air travel markets following reunification of east and west some 20 years ago, Berlin’s two major airports, Tegel and Schoenefeld combined, handle approximately 21 million passengers annually and rank as only the third busiest airport in Germany and approximately 15th busiest in Europe despite the fact that Berlin is Germany’s largest city by population and the second most populous city in Europe behind London.
In recent years Air Berlin has been one of the fastest growing airlines in Europe. Now, as part of oneworld, it is poised to extend its reach across the globe and serve a rapidly emerging market in its home base. To accommodate the projected growth in the region, Berlin is building a brand new airport to replace the two older, smaller airports currently serving the city.
When Berlin Brandenburg International Airport (BBI) opens next year the new airport will have 85 aircraft parking stands and a capability to serve as many as 45 million passengers per year, more than doubling the capacity of the two existing individual airports. Its builders aim to grow BBI into one of the top ten busiest airports in Europe.
Air Berlin will be the largest airline at BBI and is well positioned to operate a major hub that could rival any other major European airport in the next decade. By joining oneworld, Air Berlin becomes a much greater force on the European continent giving the Star Alliance’s Lufthansa and SkyTeam’s Air France and KLM some serious competition. Look for more alliance shopping for low cost carriers and a challenge to Lufthansa’s existing Frankfurt and Munich mega hubs.