But some are still skeptical about LOT's plans. One senior industry executive with knowledge of the situation argues that the long-haul fleet is too big because growth of a city does not necessarily lead to air transport expansion in that particular market. In his opinion, LOT will need a lot of feed from secondary markets to fill the aircraft, and it will compete with much bigger and more attractive airlines in these markets. In other words, it will be difficult to fly the 787s profitably, he asserts.
Mikosz, by contrast, projects that the airline will post its first operating profit after six years in 2014 and a net profit in 2015.
A quick turnaround will be crucial if LOT wants to succeed with its privatization plans. “People are not looking to buy airlines,” Mikosz concedes. “The process has to make industrial sense.” But for whom?
The big three carriers in Europe all seem preoccupied with their own issues. International Airlines Group is trying to make Iberia profitable again and integrating Vueling. Air France-KLM is dealing with Air France's structural weaknesses and may, if at all, look at increasing its 25% stake in Alitalia eventually. And Lufthansa has repeatedly made clear that, following the acquisitions of Swiss, Austrian and Brussels airlines, it is looking beyond Europe for merger activities.
“Of course, a European investor would be easiest for us, but if they are not ready, I cannot wait,” says Mikosz. One potential investor, which has been aggressively buying into foreign carriers, is Etihad Airways. Etihad owns a 27% stake in Air Berlin (and bought a majority of its frequent-flier program) and 24% of Indian carrier Jet Airways, among others. Qatar Airways has also made an attempt to buy into European airlines, having temporarily acquired a minority stake in Cargolux, but it has since pulled out.
Last month, Korean Air bought a 44% stake in CSA Czech Airlines. Following several failed privatization attempts, Malev Hungarian Airlines was forced to shut down in early 2012. Spanair, controlled by the Catalonian regional government, went bankrupt after Qatar Airways pulled back from a bid to take over a large stake in the airline.
LOT itself was once partially owned by the former Swiss SAir Group. But following its shareholder's bankruptcy in 2001, that minority stake was picked up by a trustee and has since reverted to government control.