Lufthansa returns to profit as air travel resumes

Lufthansa beat analysts’ expectations to post a quarterly profit for the first time since the pandemic, becoming the second major European airline to benefit from the travel recovery as international borders reopen.

The German airline, which is in the process of slimming down its business and is axing more than 30,000 staff, eked out earnings of €17m before interest and taxes for the three months to the end of September. In the previous quarter, Lufthansa booked a loss of more than €950m.

Last week, Air France-KLM said its operating income had come in at €132m for the quarter, citing strong customer demand.

The Frankfurt-based carrier said that, although the 19.6m passengers it had carried in the latest quarter represented 46 per cent of pre-crisis 2019 levels, new bookings had surged to 80 per cent of pre-pandemic norms.

“We are back to black,” said chief executive Carsten Spohr, “now it is a question of continuing on the path of successful change.”

The opening of US borders to travellers from Europe — planned for November 8 — generated “a boom in demand in recent weeks”, the airline said. “Since the announcement of the opening, the number of weekly bookings has increased by 51 per cent compared to the previous weeks.”

However, it reiterated that overall it still expected to operate just 70 per cent of its pre-pandemic capacity in 2022.

Last month, Lufthansa completed a capital increase of more than €2.1bn, with which it intends to repay fully the bailout it received from Berlin in the summer of 2020.

The rescue package meant the government took a 16 per cent stake in the company, which Lufthansa’s management are keen to see reduced.

The company, which has a higher cost base than many of its competitors, has made significant progress in its restructuring efforts.

Having employed almost 138,000 people at the start of the pandemic, Lufthansa said its total headcount was now down to 107,000, as the response to voluntary redundancy schemes “significantly exceeded original expectations”. However, it remains in negotiations with German pilots.

As well as a surge in transatlantic travel, the boom in air freight helped Lufthansa’s cargo business post record earnings before interest and taxes of €301m for the quarter.

The division continued to benefit from high demand, caused in part by limited freight capacity in the bellies of passenger planes. The amount of cargo carried via German airports has been growing at a double-digit rate every month, according to the airport association, ADV.

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