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Tushar Srivastava, Hindustan Times
San Francisco, May 19, 2011
As the country debates on whether Air India (AI) be privatised or the government continue to pump in oxygen to keep the ailing carrier afloat, Carsten Spohr, CEO, Lufthansa German Airlines, is of the view that national ownership "does not help". Lufthansa — Europe's largest carrier — was privatised in 1997. "I have definitely good arguments to believe that national ownership does not help," Spohr said when asked for his views on government ownership of airlines. "Coming from German history of government involvement in Lufthansa a few decades ago, we know it doesn't always help to make an airline more flexible and cash rich."

"It does help to have a national attribute to the carrier. We call ourselves Lufthansa German Airlines but we are fully privatised. We can change our name tomorrow. Why don't we do it? Because we believe that "German" is something which helps Lufthansa. This industry is not like the normal industry so to have links with the country, with the culture, the style helps," said the former pilot who was regularly flying to Delhi and Bangalore and was incharge of "AI relationship" till two years back.

"The Indian culture is very popular in Europe," he said.

"So is it the strength of an airline to be Indian? Yes. But should it be owned necessarily by government? I think the example has been proved around the world… probably its more of an advantage to have that beneficiary not to be owned by the government. But it's a question every government and every airline has to answer. But in Germany we have found an answer."

"Majority of global airlines are not government entities, for example, British Airways, Air France-KLM, Alitalia, Lufthansa group. The concept of national carrier is an irrelevant and outdated thinking," said Kapil Kaul, South Asia CEO of Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation, an aviation consultancy and research firm.

(The writer's travel and accommodation for the US trip was paid by Lufthansa.)