Air Berlin appoints new CEO following restructuring

Stefan Pichler, CEO of Air Berlin, gestures at a news conference in Berlin, Germany, November 11, 2015. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

BERLIN (Reuters) - German airline Air Berlin's AB1.DE chief executive is to step down in the new year, to be replaced by a senior manager at Lufthansa LHAG.DE following a wide-ranging shake-up of the loss-making carrier.

Air Berlin, 29 percent owned by Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways, said on Sunday Stefan Pichler will step down on Feb. 1, two years after he took over, to be replaced by Thomas Winkelmann.

Air Berlin has announced a series of restructuring moves in recent weeks that will halve its fleet to around 75 aircraft. It is leasing 38 crewed aircraft to Lufthansa and spinning off its tourist routes as a new leisure airline joint venture with tour operator TUI's TUIT.L TUIFly unit, to focus on long-haul flights operated out of Berlin and Duesseldorf.

It is still loss-making, however, and has been hit this year by fierce competition on routes to Spain as tourists avoided eastern Mediterranean destinations due to security fears.

“Winkelmann will continue the restructuring of Air Berlin in order to ensure a sustainable and profitable future,” the airline said in a statement.

Manager Magazin and Handelsblatt reported that Lufthansa had pushed for the Winkelmann appointment as a precursor to taking over Air Berlin’s remaining operations and was seeking government approval to do so.

A spokesman for Lufthansa declined to comment on the reports on Sunday.

Winkelmann, 57, was previously head of Lufthansa budget carrier Germanwings and since late 2015 has been responsible for Lufthansa’s hub at Munich.

Pichler, 59, has been in the job since February 2015 and was brought in to turn around the carrier after successfully restructuring Fiji Airways.

Reporting by Victoria Bryan; Editing by Greg Mahlich and Grant McCool