Air Berlin's task is even more daunting. It is not just about limiting short-haul losses, but about saving the airline. The company is trying to succeed by changing from a lower-cost to a higher-cost business model, introducing a hub-and-spoke system in Berlin for the first time. That was planned to be phased-in with the opening of Berlin's new airport. But given that project's massive delay, with a 2013 opening at the earliest, the airline now has to accommodate six arrival and departure banks at the much smaller Tegel airport, adding further to the cost base of the Oneworld carrier.
The situation for the Berlin-based carrier is desparate and if there is no improvement soon, its future is in doubt. What makes the situation so discouraging is that Air Berlin reported significant restructuring progress in the first half of 2012 after five consecutive years in the red, but financial results still deteriorated mainly because of high fuel prices. Its equity decreased to a mere €101 million ($137.2 million) at the end of the second quarter.
There appear to be only two options for Air Berlin: a much more severe restructuring and downsizing, or another cash injection from its biggest shareholder, Etihad Airways. But even if Etihad CEO James Hogan is willing to help, his room to maneuver is limited. Etihad already owns 29.2% of Air Berlin and cannot go beyond 49% in order not to exceed EU foreign ownership caps. Turkish airline investor ESAS Holdings owns 12% of Air Berlin's shares, so unless ESAS sells some of these, only a minimal additional stake would be available.