Thomas Cook shakes up airline business

Thomas Cook aircraft are seen parked on the tarmac at Manchester airport in Manchester, northern England, November 22, 2011. REUTERS/Phil Noble

LONDON/FRANKFURT (Reuters) - British travel group Thomas Cook plans to merge its German, British and Belgian airline operations, appointing a new airline management board to run the business.

The world’s oldest travel group said on Tuesday that Condor, its German airline brand, Thomas Cook Airlines UK and Thomas Cook Airlines Belgium would become one airline segment within the group from March 1.

The move is part of a turnaround plan, the effects of which began to kick-in late last year. The company, which was thrown a lifeline by lenders last May, has seen a steady improvement in its finances and a pick-up in demand in recent months.

The new airline management board will be chaired jointly by Christoph Debus, group head of air travel, and Ralf Teckentrup, Condor's chief executive, the company said. Former easyJet EZJ.L and KLM executive Cor Vrieswijk will take the reins as chief operating officer of Thomas Cook Airlines UK next month.

“At time when the European airline industry is experiencing major change, we believe that our airline will be stronger as one integrated business,” said Debus.

Frank Pullman will retire as managing director of Thomas Cook Airlines UK next month, the company said.

Shares in Thomas Cook, which have climbed 200 percent in the past three months, rose 2.6 percent at 68.87 pence by 1155 GMT, valuing the company at about 610 million pounds.

Reporting by Rhys Jones in London and Victoria Bryan in Frankfurt; Editing by David Goodman