What was the most difficult part in Austrian’s restructuring? 
Convincing employees to join us on this difficult and sometimes painful journey. A change in the company culture was extremely necessary. We had to change the way of thinking from that of a state-owned company, even though Austrian was privatized two years before I arrived. The aviation business environment has changed and employees have to change as well. We worked under difficult circumstances, with special problems. Luckily, following the framework agreement reached in October between Austrian and the Works Council for flight and cabin crew of its Tyrolean subsidiary, we can return some 3,200 flight attendants and pilots from Tyrolean to Austrian effective April 1, 2015. Accordingly, the entire flight operations will be integrated into Austrian Airlines. Before, when we couldn’t reach a new collective agreement, we had to move crew to Tyrolean. You need to be tough in a way.

Is the worst over for Austrian?
I would say yes. There are still some mountains to climb, but the highest peaks are conquered.  There are many challenges ahead, of course. We need strong markets, stability. But everything will be fine again.

Austrian is a 100% subsidiary of the Lufthansa Group. What is that like?
Being part of Lufthansa is the only way in this tough industry environment. There must be more consolidation in European air transportation. Austrian as a standalone company had no chance at all of survival. But we’ve done our homework and implemented a lot of new measures. We can present ourselves with more self-confidence and the map of our future is prepared. We have a voice within the Lufthansa Group and we can count on the support of our owners because we have proved we can deliver change. Our position is much stronger now. It is fascinating to see what can be achieved within a big group. For example, our long-haul fleet of Boeing 777-200s and 767-300ERs needs to be replaced in five to six years. And we now have many options.

We have also learned that you need 18 months advance time to add a long-haul aircraft. We are evaluating whether to add another 777-200ER or 767-300ER with GE engines.

There is an even more urgent need to replace Austrian’s aging Fokker regional jet fleet.
Yes, and this will be part of Austrian Airlines’ new future. Austrian will not only integrate Tyrolean, but there will be several visions we announce in line with our new concept. This includes a regional fleet overhaul, new onboard service products, a new aircraft livery and so on. We are opening a new chapter in which we will become a strong national carrier and hopefully a better-known international carrier.

One of Austrian’s most important markets, Eastern Europe, is struggling. How does this affect profitability?
Eastern Europe will remain one of Austrian’s strengths; we will not give up this market.  We know the market and business there and we have a strong footprint. It is also a cultural and historical important place for Austria. But that is no guarantee it will make a lot of money. Markets like the Ukraine and Russia remain weak and they will not recover that soon.

But thanks to the new collective agreement with our pilots, we are able to open new leisure routes, such as to Mauritius.

Would you consider an alliance or partnership with a Gulf carrier—for example, with Emirates between Vienna and Dubai?
I would never say never. But for today, I would say more or less, no. We are focusing on the values that we can get from the Lufthansa Group. A decision such as this would be made with Lufthansa. There are, of course, joint ventures that have become an essential part in the aviation business. Currently we are working on a new joint venture with Air China. That sort of an alliance is a win-win. Teaming with Emirates would be more of a last chance, when there were no other solutions possible.

Two-and-a-half years ago we began partnering with more Star Alliance members. Ethiopian and Air China are very good examples of this and both carriers are satisfied with their new Vienna services. We also see the trust is coming back among our alliance partners because of the results of our restructuring.

You were the Star Alliance CEO for 10 years before joining Austrian. How do those roles most differ?
It was a return to the operations side of the business, a chance to be part of airline management again. I’ve been breathing kerosene for 30 years now. I see the airline business differently today because I gained a lot experience during my time with Star. Within the Star Alliance, I learned a lot about diplomacy, for example. I learned why Varig went bankrupt and why Air New Zealand is so successful. You see the good and negative sides of the industry.