Ryanair aims for deal on long-haul feeder flights in 2017

FRANKFURT/PARIS, Nov 2 (Reuters) - Irish low-cost carrier Ryanair aims to strike a deal next year to offer another airline transfer flights for long-haul connections, in what could shake up the hub model at airlines.

“We think and we hope it will happen for some airline in 2017,” Ryanair’s Chief Marketing Officer Kenny Jacobs told Reuters on Wednesday.

With legacy carriers such as Air France-KLM and Lufthansa struggling to bring costs down on their namesake brands to compete with low cost carriers on short haul routes, using low-cost carriers instead for feeder flights could be a more cost effective way of bringing passengers to hubs for long-haul connections.

There have been suggestions for well over a year by both Ryanair and easyJet, Europe’s two biggest low cost carriers, that they could provide feeder flights for long-haul carriers, but so far no deal has been struck.

Instead, carriers such as Lufthansa and Air France-KLM are growing their own low-cost units to avoid giving up more market share to the likes of Ryanair.

Aer Lingus, part of IAG, has been in talks for Ryanair to provide transfer connections at Dublin airport, as has Norwegian Air Shuttle for Gatwick and Barcelona.

“We are open indeed to any airline tapping into our network, even Lufthansa,” Ryanair’s Chief Commercial Officer David O’Brien told journalists at a news conference, at which the carrier announced plans to start flights from Frankfurt airport, Lufthansa’s home turf and dominated by transfer traffic.

But Lufthansa Chief Executive Carsten Spohr gave Ryanair the cold shoulder.

“My preference is to feed our long haul with Lufthansa. My second preference is (Lufthansa’s budget carrier) Eurowings. My third preference is to use other partners,” he said earlier on Wednesday.

Independent aviation consultant John Strickland said there were challenges to concluding deals, such as finding product and revenue terms that were agreeable to both parties.

Ryanair also does not have much spare capacity, given its planes are around 95 percent full, he said, although they are growing with new planes coming.

“But Ryanair is likely to succeed soon, though at this time Lufthansa would be a less likely candidate,” he said.

In another model, low cost carrier Vueling, part of IAG, or Norwegian already offer passengers the chance to “self-connect” on their flights. (Reporting by Maria Sheahan and Victoria Bryan, editing by Louise Heavens)