April 13, 2012 / 1:46 PM / 8 years ago

Finnair seeks partner by summer, won't rule out Air Berlin

HELSINKI (Reuters) - Finland’s troubled flag carrier Finnair (FIA1S.HE) wants to find a European partner by summer to help stem its losses on short-haul routes and is not ruling out a pact with Air Berlin AB1.DE, its chief executive said on Friday.

Passenger planes of Finnish national airline company Finnair stand on the tarmac of Helsinki international airport November 16, 2009. REUTERS/Markku Ulander/Lehtikuva

Finnair is seeking a cheaper way to feed passengers to its Helsinki hub from where it operates profitable routes to Asian destinations such as Japan, China, and Singapore.

Mika Vehvilainen does not see a conflict in a possible partnership with Air Berlin, although Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways owns nearly 30 percent of the company. Air Berlin flies passengers from Europe to connect with Etihad’s Asian flights from Abu Dhabi.

“The products are very different. Helsinki offers much better connectivity and faster connections,” Vehvilainen told Reuters in an interview.

He also said there were “more than a few, but less than ten” other possible partners, but declined to specify.

“We are talking to a number of companies and we are aiming to have something potentially in place by summer in terms of a letter of intent or something along those lines and aiming to start the operations in the first half of 2013.”

In the past four years Finnair has reported net losses totalling around 250 million euros (206.8 million pounds). The economic downturn, low-cost competitors and high fuel prices have eroded profits of many national carriers around the world.

Vehvilainen, who stepped in just over two years ago, was unwilling to predict when investors could expect profits.

“We haven’t set any particular target on that one. We are working very hard on our costs and also driving the top line.”

Finnair’s first quarter results are due on April 27.

Vehvilainen is currently being investigated by police over the sale of his Helsinki apartment to pension insurance firm Ilmarinen, which rented it back to Finnair while he remained living there.

Ilmarinen is a Finnair shareholder. The Finnish government owns 55.8 percent of the company.

Editing by David Cowell

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