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Lufthansa bleeding cash with flights stunted by lockdowns

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Deutsche Lufthansa said it needs to double operations from current levels if it's to stem losses, delivering a stark assessment of the challenge facing carriers as European governments limit flights with a new wave of coronavirus lockdowns.

[FRANKFURT] Deutsche Lufthansa said it needs to double operations from current levels if it's to stem losses, delivering a stark assessment of the challenge facing carriers as European governments limit flights with a new wave of coronavirus lockdowns.

Capacity deployment must increase from 25 per cent of year-ago levels right now to about 50 per cent in order to meet a goal of returning to positive operating cash flow some time next year, Lufthansa said in an earnings statement on Thursday.

Europe's biggest airline is clinging to cash and savings targets as the latest flight curbs force carriers across the region to reassess plans for a winter low season that generally produces losses even in normal times. Lufthansa chief executive officer Carsten Spohr said his company needs to use an "inevitable restructuring" to boost efficiencies in order to ride out the crisis.

"We are now at the beginning of a winter that will be hard and challenging for our industry," Mr Spohr said in the statement.

Lufthansa is making progress towards some of its targets, predicting that the operating cash drain will be limited to about 350 million euros (S$557.9 million) a month this quarter. It had planned to trim the figure to no less than 400 million euros for the winter.

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The carrier confirmed its third-quarter adjusted loss of 1.26 billion euros before interest and tax, first reported on Oct 20, when it expressed cautious optimism about the future based on cost-cutting efforts and a modest rebound in flights from shutdowns earlier in the year.

That recovery now appears likely to be strangled off by a new German lockdown introduced on Monday, which like similar moves in France, Britain and elsewhere effectively outlaws non-essential trips, including leisure travel.

Lufthansa said it was sticking to its strategy of keeping flight capacity low and keeping back office operations to a minimum.

The performance of non-airline business units might trouble investors who hope they can be sold to reduce a teetering debt pile. Maintenance unit, Lufthansa Technik, a division the company has said it could sell in part, swung to a loss of 208 million euros for the first nine months on an adjusted Ebit (earnings before interest and taxes) measure, reducing headroom for investment in a business fighting to keep up with rapid digitisation.

The airline offered little sign that it's close to an agreement with its labour unions over the deep cost cuts management say are needed to revive its fortunes and pay back nine billion euros of government borrowings. The company did, however, flag that it could book some restructuring expenses in the final quarter, depending on progress in talks.

Lufthansa shares had dropped 51 per cent this year as at Wednesday's close. That's a steeper decline than at discount operators Ryanair Holdings and Wizz Air Holdings, but less than the drops at network rivals Air France-KLM and IAG, parent of British Airways.

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