November 24, 2017 / 1:52 PM / a year ago

German regulator checks up on air fares following Air Berlin's collapse

DUESSELDORF, Nov 24 (Reuters) - The German cartel office has asked national airline Lufthansa for information on ticket prices after receiving complaints over rising fares following the collapse of Air Berlin, Germany’s second largest carrier.

Air Berlin ceased operations last month after filing for insolvency in August. Lufthansa plans to take on around 80 planes from its collapsed rival, although it is awaiting approval for the deal from the EU’s competition regulator.

“We have asked Lufthansa to provide information on pricing,” cartel office president Andreas Mundt said, adding that the watchdog would examine the information and then decide whether to start an investigation.

Lufthansa said it was cooperating fully with the cartel office and had not changed its pricing structures, which comprise up to 26 different fares per flight.

“We have not altered our pricing. The insolvency of Air Berlin has led to a capacity bottleneck and therefore the cheapest tickets are being sold sooner,” a spokesman for the carrier said.

Aviation industry expert Gerd Pontius said at a conference this week that prices were up to 30 percent higher on average on some routes.

Lufthansa Chief Executive Carsten Spohr last week told German daily Bild that the collapse of Air Berlin meant 60,000 fewer seats were available each day but the situation should improve from January.

Lufthansa and European budget airline easyJet hope to have approvals next month for their separate deals to buy parts of Air Berlin.

Air Berlin, Monarch and Alitalia all entered administration this year, while a sharp cutback in Ryanair’s schedule due to staffing problems has also reduced the amount of seats available this winter in Europe.

That resulting reduction in seat supply is helping to support prices this winter, with carriers such as easyJet, Lufthansa and Air France-KLM all reporting improving revenue trends during quarterly results recently.

German airports association ADV on Thursday said the collapse of Air Berlin was particularly noticeable in domestic traffic, with passengers numbers dropping 3.2 percent in October on inner-German routes.

Lufthansa said this week it will extend the use of a Boeing 747 jumbo jet on some flights between Frankfurt and Berlin into December to offer more capacity on the busy route, even though it is not normally economically viable to use such a big plane on such a short route. (Reporting by Tom Kaeckenhoff and Ilona Wissenbach Additional reporting by Victoria Bryan Editing by Greg Mahlich)

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