Air Transport World

Wishing on a Star: LOT faces challenges sans illusions.(Profile)(LOT Polish Airlines)(Company Profile)

The glowing rhetoric at the ceremonial entry of LOT Polish Airlines into the Star Alliance last fall failed to cloak significant challenges facing the carrier, which celebrates its 75th anniversary this year. On the one hand, as a medium-sized airline, LOT is decidedly star struck by its nascent affiliation with some of the industry's heavy hitters. At the same time, managers are fairly pragmatic in assessing its geographically circumscribed market potential.

Although LOT is the largest carrier in Central Europe, CEO Marek Grabarek concedes frankly that operating outside a global partnership "would doom us to marginal importance behind other airlines." Marek Serafin, director-network management, agrees that "There is no clear future for a nonaligned network carrier." Ironically, as a member of Star the Polish airline now is surrounded by partners whose own regional ambitions are likely to act as a brake on its ambitions.

A former DG of the Polish government's economics ministry, Grabarek has been at the helm since forerunner Jan Litwinski, who laid the groundwork for Star membership, and other board members resigned last March over allegations of financial improprieties involving payments from former shareholder Swissair. The Swiss whammy continues to impact LOT. Poland's stated intention to privatize the airline cannot take off until a strategic investor emerges with a concrete bid for the 25. …

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